Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Heiberg's Twitch by Robert Wexelblatt, story collection. Are you a strange human in an unknowable world? Read these stories.



Robert Wexelblatt's HEIBERG'S TWITCH (Pelekinesis Books) is a totally unexpected collection of short stories. You could compare him to Borges for his enigmatic intricacy or Andreyev for emotional resonance, but what of a wit that's at once playful and tragic? These stories skewer expectations in a variety of forms; police detective, Chinese parable, art world deconstruction or South American creation myth. 

What's common in these tales is the struggle of Wexelblatt's characters, often at war with destiny. They have free will within a specific context but that world is too narrow to allow them redemption, freedom, or happiness. Oddly, whether they achieve their desire can be relevant or not. The stories are about the process of life and they are sad, funny and somehow fitting. A few examples:

In the title story, a famous scientist with his final illness, retires to his boyhood home on an island. Strangely, he develops an embarrassing tic. Also unexpected is the lovely young woman he finds for a housekeeper. Her care touches him but its her unconscious beauty that brings him to life. When a strange creature washes up on the beach and authorities ask him to identify it, he has the girl make drawings. When her talent proves impressive, he sends her work to colleagues so she might attend university. Knowing she will be gone, he asks her for a curative only she can deliver.  

In another story, a police lieutenant at the scene of a robbery meets an eleven year old Sherlock and is taken by the boy's astute intelligence and humor. Though outrageously persistent in trying to get the detective's attention, the boy finally gains his admiration--for the fact that he loves his widowed mother. While the detective sees through the boy, it's a vice versa situation. Both may get their unspoken desires. 

There is the curious tale about the origins of two Indian tribes, whose rituals of warfare, abduction, marriage and martyrdom seem wildly barbaric. Yet that perception shifts and you see how the tribes create a kind of paradise, a psychic balance. It's threatened by the "demons," the outsiders. Whether the Garden falls permanently or not, it's the tragedy of civilization. 

Kolwitzer's father is one of my favorites. Kolwitzer, an artist. receives a prestigious grant and, to him absurdly, mainstream recognition. His friend is piecing together the mystery of the artist's vision. He visits the father, a classics professor, who says all his son's art was rebellion against him. It was a primal struggle; the son who cannot become man, lover, father without killing his father. But Oedipus died at a crossroads, and the friend is meeting with the father who survives. 

Beauty and the Beast, Oedipus, are stories evoked by HEIBERG'S TWITCH. What's brilliant about this collection of stories is how, conscious or not, the stories reverberate with myths we know in our bones-- and then reinvents them. You feel the pathos of being a strange human in an unknowable world. Yet the emotional logic is irrefutable. You have to read it to believe it.

SW