"I'm a seeker," the narrator of "My Life as a Mystic" says. "A watcher of the skies. A pilgrim and a wanderer. I don't know, I couldn't stand law school." Such are the polar sentiments of the characters in the stories of David Borofka's A Longing for Impossible Things, which charts the yearning inherent in imperfect lives.
Taking their cue from Fernando Pessoa's "painful landscape" of longing for the impossible, the ministers and missionaries of "Fire" and "Coincidence" look for more than what they find in their respective theologies; they reject what they've been told in favor of what they feel. Meanwhile, everyday believers fall back upon their own intuition and pray for revelation to be forthcoming. Lovers are forced to recognize the finite limitations of their grand infatuations even as they hope for some small measure of long-lasting tenderness, while teenagers resign themselves to the inevitable disappointments of adult life, recognizing the threats that exist in a future that is yet to unfold. And, as the narrator of "Attachments for the Platonically Inclined" says in the context of a 300 game in bowling, "I can't help but be reminded of perfection when perfection was difficult to find. And impossible to hold onto. Reminded that there are moments when everything works as it is supposed to, a harmony beyond applause or appreciation from others."
The award-winning stories in David Borofka's Hints of His Mortality focus on the male of the species, on bewildered, guilt-ridden, hypersensitive characters adrift in a sea of changing roles and expectations. Although they yearn for the ideal—whether physical or spiritual—and for that sense of divine connection suggested by Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality, they usually end up settling for what seems the next best thing: sex or religion.
The amorous scrimmage between male and female in these taut, intense stories is a contest that leaves no one unmarked. The hapless ministers in Borofka's memorable collection find that their daily grind of professional piety leaves them with more questions than answers. The men and boys in Hints of His Mortality are always aware of their flaws, for Borofka's vital characters have the capacity to register the shadows of their every blemish. Like Ferguson of the title story, haunted for twenty years by his failures of conscience, each protagonist experiences the inexorable fallibility of his own nature, agonizes over his moral weakness, and longs for escape from this life in which “our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." Yet each is redeemed by his ongoing struggle for compassion and understanding.
While his parents shop for reconciliation in European furniture stores, 13-year-old Fish Becker is sent to spend the summer with Miles and Ariana Lambert. Ariana can't sleep for fear of who she'll be when she awakens, and Miles is touched, perhaps to a fault, by the romanticism we know first in our lives. While their visionary daughter, Mira, leads Fish through magic midnight rituals, their son introduces him to every kind of excess. Touched by a gentle humor that runs straight up against the isolation of human sadness, The Island is a rich coming-of-age story.
Novelist Fickett (The Holy Fool) collects the writings of novelists like Doris Betts, Madeleine L'Engle, Ron Hansen and Susan Bergman on their experiences with the supernatural. The 14 contributors, who also include philosophers (Deal Hudson) and lawyers (Phillip E. Johnson), write openly about such topics as signs and wonders, miracles, revelation and the relationship between science and the supernatural. In his introduction, Fickett remarks that the writers he has chosen for this project are "hard thinkers and eloquent witnesses to their experience" of the supernatural. In his startling reflection, "Underland," novelist David Borofka chronicles his bouts with depression and concludes that heaven and earth are so much a part of each other that the transcendent is found peeking through our ordinariness in little moments of insight. In a reflection both comic and profound, "The Way of Imperfection," Erin McGraw offers a parody of Teresa of Avila's The Way of Perfection as she searches for, and finds, a spiritual model "who rejoiced when she found her Lord in everyday chores." Finally, Hudson recalls the work of French Catholic thinker Jacques Maritain and urges, like Maritain, that the supernatural be restored to philosophy. Fickett's collection offers elegant meditations from writers who are attentive to the mystery of the transcendent in everyday life.
Walking on Water gathers together an engaging and compelling
collection of short stories by 24 of the many talented writers to have
graduated from The University of Alabama's Program in Creative Writing
over the past 20 years. Editor Allen Wier, who taught fiction writing
at Alabama from 1980 to 1994, offers us in this celebration of writing
a variety of fictional voices that represent widely differing
sensibilities and visions. Some stories are by writers whose literary
careers are well begun, while others appear here in print for the first
time. Wier named the collection after the story by Kim Trevathan, this
author's first published fiction, because walking
on water is such an apt figure for what the fiction writer attempts
with each new story's beginning.
Walking on Water is an outstanding anthology, surprising in the rich
variety of its voices and stances, extraordinary in the sustained quality
of all of the 24 stories.