Regardless of her indifferent air, my cat, Asha, is into high-brow literature and pink purses.
Have you ever had a brain hiccup? A brain hiccup happens to me whenever I read a passage, witness a scene, or hear a phrase that causes a stream of thought to flood my synapses. My mind cannot collate through the chaos fast enough so in an effort to keep up, it chokes on each concept before attempting to digest it all. I love it because in the few seconds that it happens, a brain hiccup will slow down everything around me, thus causing me to feel like I have no body, no eyes, and no ears. I become a pure recipient of stuttered thoughts. I usually have many things on the go around me, that the brain hiccup becomes a short, but welcome respite to just sit down and think.
My twitter friend, Guaurav, recommended Tim Conley’s Nothing Could Be Further, with the warning, “It’s not your regular collection of short stories, but it is a quirky puzzle that I think you’ll enjoy.” As someone with a penchant for anything experimental, I was quick to order it.
Nothing Could Be Further caused me many a brain hiccup. The stories are short or flash fiction length, some being as short as just a few sentences, in fact. Yet each tale is commonly weaved with an absurdist down-the-rabbit-hole-like thread. From a world where potatoes sing, to a scene of weird world espionage, then on to a scene of occult spoons, I delighted in the quirkiness of the book. Take for example “The Weakest Link,” where a group of female hockey players are chatting at a bar after a particularly tough game. Everything is nice and normal for a while until one of them has a seizure.
“You okay, girl?” asked Shannon.
“We are unharmed,” said We-who-inhabit-Stephanie-Mullen.
“What do you think, how many are you?” asked Jolanta.
“We are Legion,” said We-who-inhabit-Stephanie-Mullen.
I thought We-who-inhabit-Stephanie-Mullen was an odd name for a character. But after finishing the story I pondered it for a day, not so much to figure it out, but with the impression that as a reader, I am an outsider. In my imagination, I walked into the bar, saw the scene, but who was I? Am I We-Who-Inhabit-Stephanie-Mullen? Am I one of the hockey players? Am I just a digester of situations, fantastical or not? It is writing like that takes me outside the book and back into my own thoughts to analyze who I am as a reader. It’s mind bending to read passages like this.
In a painting, she explains, we see a moment presented to us, but we experience our own burning anticipation of the next moment, the moment after this one, as well as our equally burning curiousity about the moment before this one. In the greatest paintings if that actually made any sense, we are torn in two directions. And yet, she continues after a pause, the tension can hold us in equilibrium if we can prevent one claim from pulling us harder in its direction than the other.
The same can be said for this book. I was held in the moment while reading the stories. Afterwards, captured in the recollection of its individual passages, I speculated on the histories of story’s settings, and found myself anticipating, not only what could possibly have occurred after it’s ending, but what the next story was going to bring to the table. It felt like being in a time or dimension machine, like a tardis, where you dialed a random destination by simply turning the page.
I highly recommend the stories Next, Impasse, Rocket Science, and Dry Water and Wooden Iron. I took me longer to read Eye of The Hawk, which is like a rulebook to a complicated game kind of like Harry Potter’s Quidditch. I’m not big on gaming rules, but the story itself had an interesting political bent that I appreciated.
Nothing Could Be Further is a quick and fun read, and I highly recommend it. This small book fits conveniently in my back pocket and is definitely re-reading material. Tim Conley’s writing is refreshingly offbeat and deserves more exposure, hence this review, and my still re-occurring current brain hiccups on it.
Nothing Could Be Further is published by Emmerson Street Press and can be found here: http://www.emmersonstreetpress.com/esp/Tim_Conley.html
“Tim Conley’s fiction, poetry, essays, and translations have appeared in journals in seven countries. His books include Whatever Happens (2006) and The Encyclopedia of Fictional and Fantastic Languages (with Stephen Cain, 2006).
He lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, and teaches at Brock University.”