Are You Here For What I'm Here For?

by Noe Kamelamela

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 20, 2016

Are You Here For What I'm Here For?

Halfway through this collection I had to take a break from gnawing through it to process my mortality. Brian Booker's first short fiction collection "Are You Here For What I'm Here For?" is filled with tension. Each story has characters who are puzzling through mysteries, some of which have hints of the mystical and others for which there are no simple explanations. These seeking souls wander forwards and backwards in time, to different places, and although there is frequently a destination in mind, sometimes they get there and sometimes they don't. The title of the collection perfectly captures the anxiety of constant searching for: understanding, solutions, or a safe space.

The cover art is filled with nautical and twee whimsy, with an ancient carry case filled with objets d'art of different destinations. Each story similarly contains different snapshots, glimpses into different landscapes of human life. Booker leans heavily on unreliable narrator in most of these stories with forays into third person omniscient. Quite a bit of the action is going on inside of the characters' heads, therefore making it into the story, but not necessarily making the story exciting. For some boredom may take hold, since while there is suspense, darkness, confusion and anxiety, there are few to no real denouements, climaxes or real endings in sight. There are loaded guns without any shots being fired, trains that literally go nowhere, searches that turn up nothing to report.

What's pleasing to me about this collection is that each story is mostly about the journey, with maybe a little bit of spicy introspection thrown into the mix. The inner monologues are relatable and juicy. Our narrators aren't smoke and dagger types, rather they are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, ordinary people just moving through life. This is not to insist that it's all rooted in the everyday mundane life: In particular, the ideas that fly through "Gumbo Limbo" and "The Sleeping Sickness" seem rooted simultaneously both in mythology as well as science fiction. None of these personas are superheroes or mad scientists, though their limitations are illuminating.

"Are You Here For What I'm Here For?"

Brian Booker

Bellevue Literary Press

$16.95 (Trade Paperback)

Noe Kamelamela is a reader who reads everything and a writer who writes very little.