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Gasparini: Heading Home
A Demon in My View
Guernica Editions, 2003
Guernica Editions, 2007
a Kiss Become a Bite?
Ekstasis Editions, 2009
It is always
dangerous asking a woman to review the writing of a boy’s
boy. However, the Body Worlds exhibition, which shows us that
skin is only the receptacle of our twenty-one grams and its complex
infrastructure, reminds the female critic that there is a lot
going on beneath the testosterone driven top layer of flesh that
doesn’t necessarily reveal itself on the first peel.
A first reading of Len Gasparini, longer ago than he probably
wants to remember, bespoke of a truck driver plowing through fresh
fields of inadequately rooted Italian girls. “Lock up your
daughters” this critic wrote about poetry that was often
more pen than ink. But was that fair? The writer didn’t
the idiosyncratic poet obsessed with undressing plaster Madonnas
and their pulchritudinous sorelle, is a mature voyageur, his road
broadened to the four narrative lanes on North American highways.
Those roads, the ones taken and not taken, wear the patina of
men who change their minds.
witness to brave-hearts who stop and start and reverse direction.
You can smell it on the pages of Gasparini’s books. It is
the scent of nostalgia and regret. And he isn’t spraying
Manguard or whatever passes for reality fumigant on any of it.
In this season of “clever” writing, the big schism
between head and heart, the top and bottom notes of plainspeak
in Gasparini’s mostly first person narratives are as welcome
as frangipani riding the Japanese Current from the South Pacific.
His prose smells like real earth in the hothouse of artifice.
In the story
“Wild Pitch,” from the collection A Demon in My View,
life seen through his rear view mirror, Gasparini compares baseball
and poetry unpacking the arguable veracity of Cy Young’s
statement, “Pitchers like poets are born and not made.”
That may be true but there is also grace in the effort to endure,
despite and even because of the failure to reach perfection. If
perfection were the only desideratum, then the human race and
writer Len Gasparini would both be redundant.
is, in stories where the muse (a toss up: Edgar Alan Poe or Mary
Magdalen) and the pitching arm fail and the omniscient observer
swoops in for sex as with the sexually ambivalent husband and
his unsatisfied wife “Frank and Millie” in The Undertaker’s
Wife, a more recent but still stubbornly fami(g)liar collection,
the voyageur is fearless. His pen goes everywhere. It does not
discriminate. It does not stop to check for stutters and dangling
modifiers. It does not censor itself in tidy little pirouettes
around dog mess on the carpet. That is not the stuff of bravery.
As any good dancer knows, when you lead with your heart, the right
foot will follow.
They are always
on the move, his jiving “I’s, mostly in vintage cars
driven by guy’s guys with cigarette packages folded in the
sleeves of their T shirts. Once in a while, they rev the engines
in mating displays. Sometimes they take a wrong turn. Always,
the chicks notice. We notice. These multiple “I’s
are people worthy of our attention because they live from the
ground up, answering yes to the checklist of things needed for
the drive through life. Feet, yes! Peckers, yes! Tickers, sure!
matter whether or not Gasparini’s voyageur is autobiographical.
He is always honest and that is refreshing in a world of disingenuous
In When Does
A Kiss become A Bite, his recent short story collection from Ekstasis
Editions, which has made a specialty of noir auteurs, tender stalkers
of the psychic night like Gasparini, Jim Christie and John Moore,
he continues the picaresque tradition, a rolling stone gathering
grainy photos. Those frames infused with masculine language long
on torque carry the stories from beginnings to uncertain endings.
For a lapsed Catholic, that uncertainty looms.
There is redemption
in kindness, the aspect of gentleness that helps navigate even
the most treacherous corners. In the story “Poetic Justice”
Fletcher (rhymes with…) the academic falls for a mother
and daughter who represent the bookends of innocence and experience.
For the character defying his mortality in carnal sin and losing
himself in a maze of temptation the mother is past her stale date
and the daughter his logical option. Biologically speaking, that
is a no brainer. Morally, it spells ruin for all of them. The
academic loses his job and is murdered in an act of random justice
and the daughter ends up on the street. “It is only the
emotionally impaired who really experience love, he thought: which
is why it is so intimately linked with tragedy.”
In the story
“Graveyard Shift,” which concludes the latest collection,
Gasparini, who sometimes navigates a sentence like a husband forced
to take dance lessons, delivers a visceral punch in a turn of
phrase no woman could have concocted, “When George Bozin’s
wife left him, he was like a man who had died standing up.”
Even horses wouldn’t have thought of that wonderful image,
and they know stand-up. This level of self-awareness is Gasparini’s
a kiss become a bite? There are three answers to the question:
always, sometimes and never. It all depends on point of view.
The view through the rear view mirror is almost always sweeter.
Gasparini’s fictional world, in spite of his grainy film
noir realism, is nostalgic. Three books written over a decade
move forward and the driver sits firmly at the wheel. He is a
traveler (albeit ever closer to the end of the road) with the
guts to keep on driving. The final story ends in a noose, with
implied redemption. The narrator will be saved for another ride
in the desert of temptation.
of shadow and light in this and other stories is a catholic preoccupation.
No matter how far the narrator drives, the past is still written
in the gestalt of his journey. He may be driving toward Poe and
Southern Gothic, but there is a Bible in his glove compartment.
In “The Space Between a Bed and a Chair,” his account
of a hotel meeting with Tennessee Williams, Gasparini quotes the
great playwright, “The human heart has no straight lines.”
Assuming it travels in circles or deviates to intersect with other
heart-lines, we see the gestalt of stories that intend to connect.
That is what compels us.
Rogers used to be a novelist, but now she is a back seat driver.