xTx. Civil Coping Mechanisms, $13.95 paperback (120p) ISBN: 978-1-937865-37-5
I am an avid reader of xTx's work and have been for a handful of years, since around the time her book Normally Special was published. If there is one thing I can say about xTx as a writer, it is that she does not flinch, not ever. Given her typical range of subject matter, it's not an easy feat, and it's the tight but complete vision of her stories that gives them their power. In Today I Am A Book, a collection built around a single phrase, the stories sometimes feel like blows raining down, relentless, strong, and vivid. They are arresting, and then captivating. The narrators of these stories do not need to shout. You will lean in to catch every word.
The book's great strength lies in its cohesion. If it were merely a batch of stories strung together by the opening line, "Today I am a..." it could read like a bad workshop exercise. Instead, it feels like the characters are all calling out from the same cavernous place. Their stories are a whirl of desire, violation, denial, desperation, stubborn hope, deprivation, and futility. xTx has taken more than thirty stories, all only a few pages long, and made them feel like one. The title is appropriate.
From one of the standout stories, "Today I Am A Genie," comes a passage that communicates the conflicting, tortured nature of so many of the characters:
"I am a maker of miracles. I am so very coveted. I am fulfiller of dreams. I am that of dreams. I am also the opposite. I am so very lonely. I am despair-choked inside a well of fetid darkness. I cannot pray enough for my undoing."
And in "Today I Am A Farmer":
"When I see the stalks are right, I pull them. Each time thinking, this time will be different."
All of the characters are somewhere in this process, pulling up stalks, when each time before they have yielded nothing. They are pulling stalks, or they are already resigned to let them rot in the earth. They are from all different circumstances, facing different insurmountable difficulties, but they are all either approaching or have stepped over that line of surrender. As a reader, it is a scary but emotionally resonant place to inhabit with them.
With Today I Am A Book, xTx's work is greater in scope than it has ever been, while retaining her signature sharp, visceral focus. This book should not be missed. (March 2015)
Purchase Today I Am A Book HERE.
Reviewer bio: Taylor Breslin graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2012. She lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She is on Twitter: @taylorbreslin