by Vincent Czyz
Published by Voyant Publishing
First published January 1, 1998
Rain Mountain Press edition: May 1, 2015
Fiction (short stories)
234 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Review by C. Todd White
September 8, 2015.
Adrift in a Vanishing City is a collection of stories in non-chronological sequence that nevertheless stitch together a patchwork of fiction that is part Faulkner and part Steinbeck, part Kerouac and part chick-flick.
First published in 1998 by Voyant Publishing in Rutherford, NJ, the book has recently been reprinted by Rain Mountain Press in New York.
These collected tales revolve around a charismatic vagabond from small-town Kansas named Zirque Granges and his copper-haired “Blue Jean” girl, Rae Anne. Zirque is ruggedly handsome (despite a gap-toothed smile), part Native American (Creek), and sexually compelling—a man who could have stepped right out of a Joni Mitchell song. Rae Anne tends to house and hearth and teaches grade school as dutifully she waits for her roving lover to return.
The book is well-titled, for these very solid and historically grounded characters pass through time and space as if it is they who are real and the world they inhibit illusory, cities and towns grounded by memory and retrospect. The book in this regard is refreshingly honest—the photorealist trend prevalent in novels and movies today often belies the evanescence of life.
The characters in Adrift, and the settings themselves, are as archetypal as a Tarot deck—harlots and lovers, magicians, scholars, knaves and knights all make their appearance in this novel-like compendium of tales. This is not a criticism: The characters Czyz evokes appear solid in our imagining, and tapping into archetypes helps us better understand them not only as agonists but also as heroes in a mythic sense.
Similarly, his descriptions of setting—of Pittsburg, Kansas, especially, where Czyz had known several of the real-world personas we meet along the disjointed journey—are deftly sketched but comparatively two dimensional. Czyz is most vivid through his descriptions of character.
The “gay” tie-in is through the androgynous mystic Zabere, who resides near Zirque’s paramour du Paris, Vernonique, in the bohemian district of Montmartre. Zabere is a soothsayer, a shaman in the archetypal sense—a medium between worlds, a man betwixt genders, perhaps on the fringes of sanity.
Czyz’s prose is beat-styled and poetic, a pleasure to read. Some passages beg one to stop and reflect, ponder the eloquence of a deftly painted scene or turn of phrase. Patient readers will find much to delight upon here.
This is a smart book, too. While the settings vary widely from Pittsburg to Paris, Babylon to Budapest, from shining Delphi to Gomorrah in flames, one can sense that Czyz is writing from personal and historical familiarity with the places and situations on which his literary magic carpet alights.
Adrift in a Vanishing City is a dark book, cast in grays and shadows. Apropos of the theme of ephemerality, many of the characters Zirque and Rae Anne encounter die, often yearning for things they cannot have (namely, our protagonists). Even here, Czyz blends history with mythic reality, reminding us that we are each on a hero’s journey, making every life epic, sometimes tragic, in scale.
The first story in Adrift in a Vanishing City, “Zee Gee and the Blue Jean Baby Queen,” won the prestigious W. Faulkner-W. Wisdom Prize for Short Fiction in 1994.
One can find stories by Czyz in Shenandoah, AGNI, The Massachusetts Review, Georgetown Review, Quiddity, Tampa Review, Tin House (online), Louisiana Literature, Southern Indiana Review, Skidrow, Penthouse, Camera Obscura, and Archaeopteryx, among other publications.
This review has also been published by Out In Jersey magazine and the Empty Closet.
©2015 by C. Todd White. All rights reserved.