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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > APRIL 2017 > Bodies still and moving

Bodies still and moving

Story collections from Cary Fagan and Paul Carlucci offer varying degrees of toughness and solidity

SHORT FICTION

The Old World and Other Stories

Cary Fagan

House of Anansi Press

A Plea for Constant Motion

Paul Carlucci

House of Anansi Press

“I found this photograph / underneath the broken picture glass.” So begins “Photograph,” a 1993 song written and performed by R.E.M. and Natalie Merchant that describes the sensation of coming across an old portrait and trying to intuit something truthful about the feelings and experiences churning behind the frozen expression. “A big smile for the camera, / How did she know?” sings Michael Stipe, evoking the odd mixture of lived history and voyeuristic perplexity inherent in thumbing through somebody else’s treasured mementoes, along with the temptation to project ourselves into the lives of others.

The tension between the far away and the familiar that manifests in the Rorschach-test nature of old snapshots serves as a unifying conceit for Cary Fagan’s new collection, The Old World and Other Stories, which features 35 pieces of varying length and quality, each associated with a real-world black-and-white photograph. In the preface, the author explains that these artifacts somehow “found their way” to him, but he doesn’t fully outline his curatorial methodology; instead, he tries to clarify his artistic intentions. “I have given them stories,” Fagan writes, “to replace the ones they have lost. … I imagine them belonging to one history, found in an album that might belong to any of us.”

It’s a solid idea for a collection, one which The Old World bears out effectively, if not always as ingeniously as a reader might desire. The same thing that’s so promising about Fagan’s project – the excitement of yoking a still image to an active, breathing narrative and exploring how far it wanders from its original, static i ncarnation – i s paradoxically the book’s most salient limitation. There’s something overly careful and conscientious in the way that Fagan forges the links between some of the stories and their inspirations, as in “Invisible,” which works laboriously to account for an impassive matrimonial shot.

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