Review of Craig Foltz's WE USED TO BE EVERYWHERE

Craig Foltz. Ugly Duckling Presse, $16 trade paperback (107p) ISBN: 978-1937027179

Language is a means to an end just as truly as language is an end in itself. We don’t always come across the latter in fiction, but reading Craig Foltz’s We Used to be Everywhere will make you think otherwise. Foltz’s book is a tiny book (with tiny type), comprised of 14 stories of various lengths (with the majority unfolding in sections), and it’s written in a language that is marvelously aware of itself. So while the stories are intricate and spare narratives of ex-lovers and terrorists and strangers, the language itself supersedes these narratives and challenges the reader to read these fictions through an atypical fictive lens. Most of the stories in the collection unfold in second person (or bring in the second person perspective along the way), making it easy to enter the language, as Foltz is doing, from the inside out. The following passages show how this internality works for Foltz’s characters—meaning how they move through their narratives by consciously reflecting on the language that’s propelling their narratives:

“It is a basic problem. In the absence of memories, wordless gestures. Moonbeams cluster at the edge of our lips. One of the girls, Colby, walks up to the front of the class and writes something on the board. The thin film covering her eyes dissolves into brackish water. Her boyfriend, if she has one, waits near the bike path to pummel you with sticks. Without teeth you would have nothing to grind a vocabulary against.” (49)

“Some say our words are like bones. Brittle, full of liquid, and shifting. Some say qualifying events are like golden tokens. Others mistake them for syrupy lines of interest-free debt. Chloe asks you to read out the anonymous note you found in your mailbox.” (88)

“What if you had to appropriate from yourself for inspiration? What if you created a sentence where you could secretly reside even after you were dead? Would anyone come back to find you?” (68)

These passages also speak to the objective of the book as a whole. Foltz seems to write these fictions not to fully realize a world for readers but to provide the musings, questions, and vocabulary that allow readers to reflect on their own worlds in new ways. Often my mind wanders as I read this collection, but that seems like the point. Often the stories bleed together, but that also seems like the point. These are pages full of connections and disconnections, of engagement and reinvention of memory, and of endless language-centered interrogations.

To say it another way, the stories in We Used to be Everywhere are often emotionally and structurally challenging, and the language is constantly at play. Think of the stylized opening line from John Barth’s “Autobiography: A Self-Recorded Fiction”:  

“You who       listen                give me life                 in a manner of speaking.”

Much in the way that Barth empowers language here to lift from the page, Foltz uses language to create faint yet pensive layers inside the reader’s mind. Foltz is not concerned overlarge with exacting new worlds through recognizable language. And on the whole, the language in his collection is anything but. (October 2013)

Purchase We Used To Be Everywhere HERE.

Reviewer bio: Michelle Dove's fiction appears or is forthcoming in New South, Passages North, Pear Noir!, Barrelhouse and elsewhere. She lives in Washington, DC.