Book: A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Space
Author: S.D. Foster
Type of Book: Fiction, bizarro, short story collection, flash fiction
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because it is. Hope that helps.
Availability: Published by Eraserhead Press in 2011, you can get a copy here:
Comments: So my love of short stories and flash fiction should be well known by now, but it bears repeating that one has to really fuck things up for me not to enjoy a short story collection. And I’m happy to tell you that Foster fucked nothing up. This is a very good short story collection, maddeningly good. I say maddeningly because I suspect that much of his writing was amazing to me because his stories so often appealed to my own mental quirks and, frankly, personality issues. I’d like to say there is something for everyone in these 23 stories but people are weird and obnoxious in so many ways there is every chance that some of you might not love this book as much as I did. So, given all of the human perversity I often face as I discuss books, I’m going to share the stories that pinged me as amazing and hope for the best.
Foster begins this collection by appealing to my innate animism. “The Course of Clementine” tells the story of a little piece of fruit, a clementine to be clear, and her voyage from tiny “sour green baby on the branch” to a grown piece of fruit purchased at a supermarket. She knows her history, told to her from Father Tree, and has a modest but deep ambition to be consumed, as to be eaten and enjoyed is her destiny. She worries as she sees other clementines rot, she worries she may not taste good. Almost like a child from a divorced family, she worries endlessly, taking on all sorts of little issues as her fault. She often feels inadequate to other foods and she ends up living her own worst nightmare. This is ultimately a very sad story, and for a woman who apologizes to the floor when she drops a fork (and to the fork, too), I now look at all the food in my refrigerator and wonder about its mental state.
“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Chimp” is the story of an orphaned chimp who was bullied by his peers, who find his higher aspirations laughable. He spends his time with the birds and becomes a singer, leaving the jungle and finding a soft-hearted landlady who will rent him a room until he can get a job. He finds a job singing but he is not treated as an artist – he is treated as a novelty act and paid in fruit. His landlady puts him out and he finds himself forced to live with an uncle at the zoo. He continues to sing but one night loses his shit completely, returning to the zoo to face the life that humans will let him have.
For the first time in my life, I was glad my parents weren’t alive to see me like this. But then again, maybe it’s all they would’ve ever wanted for me.
Such a sad, bleak story.
“A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Space” is about a man who lives in the aforementioned hollow cube and is, in fact, lonely. That is, until he begins to get some toys from children’s meals from fast food restaurants. Little pink princesses. He becomes obsessed with them sexually and in a fevered dream state, he mauls his toys, leaving only the original pink princess whole. The remaining princess thinks that the destroyed dolls were her children and demands that he give her new children. He does, and she wants to reward him, but they encounter the problem that all people find when they inspect their toys – a stunning lack of genitals on her part. Being utterly insane, his beloved pink princess begins to demand her own hollow cube, then a bigger cube, and spurns the protagonist as too fat as he has eaten so much fast food in order to obtain her and their many pink princess children. He can do no right by her and it ends much as you suspect such a situation would in real life.
Perhaps my favorite story is “Matilda Goes Shopping.”
Her youth almost gone and Matilda was, by choice, still single, having postponed her plans – for marriage, a home in suburbia, children – so that she could, instead, look after her unbalanced brother: a stubbly and doubly-chinned glutton with a phobia of hunger – “To be hungry is to suffer,” he’d say – and an attendant lust for all things digestible; a weak-bowelled and bladdered blob who feared accidental soiling so much that he rarely wore clothes, never ventured outside Matilda’s apartment, and could, by and large, be found when he wasn’t in the kitchen, either on or in the immediate vicinity of the toilet.
This is a hell of an opening sentence, and this is a hell of a story. Foster’s prose in this piece so neatly echoes the subject matter – over-stuffed and overwhelming. And it’s disturbing as hell without being exploitative. This is some really twitchy prose.
She’d watched this wretched spectacle so many times before, on an almost daily basis: her naked brother fingering the fridge’s contents, arranging bags and bottles and jars in the most efficient way; then surveying the empty space and breaking into sweat, the flesh around his face beginning to ripple in panic because “empty space means an empty stomach, which means hunger, which means…” Yes, she’d also heard it all before. But never this late, at an hour he was normally slumped on the toilet seat, asleep, and she was undressed for bed.
This story is a sad, sickening, yet shining example of how it is bizarro is so much more than just gross or nasty or lunatic situations. This is a gross, nasty, lunatic story but it is also full of pathos, explaining the difficulties of mental illness, addiction, betrayal, lost youth and filial love coupled with natural disgust. I won’t go on in any further detail about this story – this is a “worth the price of admission” story. You really need to read it.
But lest we get lost in contemplation of family bonds and mental illness, the next story, “The DNA of Horkenheimer” returns us to a silly but weird and mostly gross place. Horkenheimer’s sole aspiration in life is to spread his seed far and wide. He worked very hard toward his goal:
…I stuck mostly to seducing young women who, like me, had strong reservations regarding abortion.
I broke through their IUDS…
The results were gratifying. Before long, the city was crawling with little half-Horkenheimers.
But Horkenheimer faces a problem – his randy male peers who keep reproducing despite the number of kicks to the balls Horkenheimer delivers and despite the radium he introduces into their environment. What is the short term solution to all the competitors to Horkenheimer’s biological hegemony? Murder most humorous and most disgusting. This was another story that greatly appealed to me. It’s also quite foul. Those who enjoyed Wrath James White’s Population Zero might see this story as a comedic side note to Wrath’s serious and dark novella.
“The Assorted Suicides of Grover Grayson” is most memorable to me because of the note Grayson decides to leave.
Grover slouched on the futon, pen and pristine square of toilet tissue at hand. Think as he might, he couldn’t find proper paper – let alone think of anything to write on it. But his inability to compose a suitable suicide note only hardened his resolve to kill himself. And when the sentences simply wouldn’t form, he pitched the pen, picked up the square and blew his nose. That spray of greenish slime was worth a thousand words.
Alas, Grayson finds achieving death difficult and tries many methods before realizing he is doomed in a way he hadn’t anticipated.
Foster’s prose at times is reminiscent of old tales with characters who have sing-song names are often faced with moral dilemmas, but even as he engages in familiar story formats, his prose is malleable. As the quotes from “Matilda Goes Shopping” demonstrate, Foster creates his stories not just in details but also in the very structure of his sentences – gluttonous sentences for a story about a gluttonous man. A later story, “Snowman,” wherein a man befriends a snowman, the word choice and sentence structure almost seem as if they come from a different writer. Some might find this an unsuitable way to write but to me it seems as if Foster’s passion for his stories fuels the words, rather than using words to reveal his passion. It’s like he becomes temporarily possessed by his stories, expressing them in the voice the story demands, rather than forcing his ideas into a static style of writing. It’s really quite extraordinary to read.
There are 23 stories in this small book. A sick girl’s devoted doll, an able-bodied woman who longs to be a quadriplegic motivational speaker, parents overprotect their sickly son, a monster called Slothra ponders why the townspeople no longer fear him, paranoia in a pit… The content has no uniting theme other than a sort of harking back to older morality tales and Foster’s willingness to use different talents to tell each story, and it is a magnificent read. I highly recommend this collection and this was by far my favorite book from the New Bizarro Author Series in 2012.
I also recommend that if you find yourself wanting to read this book, you get a copy now. Foster, as a part of the NBAS, has a limited amount of time to sell a specific number of books in order to be offered a writing contract from Eraserhead Press. If you want to read more from him in the future, buying a copy now will ensure we get to read more of his unusual prose.