Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Friday 16 November 2012

"Little Red Transistor Radio from Trieste" by Dragan Todorovic (Nine Arches Press, 2012)

First I need to declare an interest - this is from the same series as my By All Means book.

The book has 6 stories - 14 to 24 pages long.

  • Little Red Transistor Radio from Trieste - Third person sections, sub-titled by year - "1969: He lives in a slow town two hours south of Belgrade. He is eleven years old and he's in love for the first time". Music and love dominate - "He starts to like slow songs, since the more slow songs you know the better you dance, and the better you dance the less you are lonely" (p.16). "he loves records because they remind him of tree rings: each groove is a memory" (p.16). At the end, 1995, he buys a little red radio and leaves for Canada.
  • Camera Obscura - A male photographer lives with a wife who has bouts of mental illness. He suggests that she writes little texts to accompany his photos. He begins to specialize in places where lovers go - "The traces of love were more interesting to him than the love itself" (p.33). He finds a house owned by a local museum that was built "as an example of the local traditional architecture", now abandoned, used by couples. He comes to the conclusion that "Location chooses libido" (p.34). His wife improves. Rather than writing words to fit his images, she begins to write the text first - "Voyeurism is an out-of-body experience./ And she had finally found her out-of-body words" (p.39). Outside the house he finds an old camera, a collectors' item with an ingenious mechanism of mirrors. He photographs a couple through the window. They're dancing. Later, he can't see himself in a mirror. On the final page, she's the heathy one and he has occasional panic attacks. At the end "The only thing that calmed him down was browsing through his old pictures. His favourites were those first images taken with the brass camera. When looking at them, he felt he was inside that abandoned house" (p.47).
  • What I've Seen - My favourite. "This night ... is a blot that is leaking from a very old quill, spreading over fields and fears, over love and loss, over teeth and tears. ... This night ... comes from several directions at once and goes wherever it wants. It can sidestep a town - if it feels like that - or a whole country, and it can double the darkness over another place" (p.52). A sort of fog appears - "All those who drive south, from Belgrade to Kragujevac, have to forget an event in their lives when passing through it. All those going in the opposite direction have to acquire a false memory" (p.53) "Then a small white car passes hesitantly by and the light of its headlamps reflects against something small and shiny in her hair, some sort of a decoration./ Perhaps she is trying to remember something" (p.54). We come to realise we're in the mind of an unconscious patient. "There is no thinking when in pain. There is only one thought: how to stop it" (p.59). We're given a page about the 7 degrees of pain. We're in a transitional physical/non-physical world - "Some are born with wings, some without them them - it has nothing to do with beliefs, or dreams, or delusions. Some can fly, some can't, that is all." (p.67). Maybe the story could have ended on p.67 but then we'd miss the patient coming to, saying, in a foreign tongue, "we are only circles on a cold lake".
  • Deathroom III - A writer wonders how he'll be remembered after his death. He visits a new hypermarket before visiting his mother in the nearby hospital. He wonders about an "invention for dying at home", the souls "fed into a network that ends somewhere in the Swiss Alps, in the giant underground vault where souls are catalogued for an American search engine, scanned and deposited for future perusal" (p.82). During the visit the woman in the next bed dies. The narrator wonders about how a body changes at the moment of death, how its weight changes. After, he returns to the hypermarket.
  • Postcards from Past Winters - It begins in Amsterdam where he buys "Caught Up" by Millie Jackson. Back home in Prague he meets by chance Anya, a mysterious woman who sometimes visits him for sex. "We talked only while making love", making love in the dark. He's curious about her. "Had I placed a tub filled with ink at my doorstep, and covered the floor of my room with paper, at least I would have known the steps, I would have had a map" (p.100). "Outside, the metaphors and the rain stopped. I paid the bill and left. / Later that evening, when I opened the bag to start packing, I discovered that my new fountain pen had bled ink into the breast pocket of my new jacket" (p.101). Later, during sex, he discovers she has long wide scars - the result of a car accident in which she almost died. At the end he decides to go away - "Under the yellow light along the railroad, the tracks shone like scars" (p.108)
  • 14 years - A dream. Doctors tell the narrator that his mother's going to be ok. At times the prose races - "a woman will pass by - a hoarse voice, a horse's ass, the legs in nets, nett IQ 138, a smart woman, sexy but unsexed by the blandness of this forgotten street; and the parking officer straightens his cap because he has more authority when Hitlerian, Goebbelsian, a cyanide capsule on his lapel, his son has opened a small business in a small town in Italy - the Chinese on the left, the whites on the right, their silk just like the Italian, like Polo, St Marco, Piazza, doge, longitude taken, latitude given, clocks still unreliable" (p.112). It ends
    "But how can this be my end? This is just a dream."
    "No, it's not. That's your life. You took it for a dream, because it hurt. By the way," he tells you over his shoulder, "pay attention: all tenses of hurt are the same. Hurt. Think about it.

These summaries don't do justice to the texture of the pieces, but may give you a feel for the mix of detail and symbolism. I thought the first story was good, the 2nd even better, the 3rd memorable. Plateau'd a bit for me after that, but he's a find. Yes, there's a lot of hurt and pain, but sometimes love wins through, if you like that sort of thing.

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