Books
3:30 pm
Mon December 7, 2009

"Masques for the Fields of Time" by Joe Taylor

Joe Taylor, Professor of English at the University of West Alabama, is the author of a novel, "Oldcat and Ms. Puss: A Book of Days for You and Me," and two volumes of stories, "The World's Thinnest Fat Man" and "Some Heroes, Some Heroines, Some Others."

Joe Taylor, Professor of English at the University of West Alabama, is the author of a novel, "Oldcat and Ms. Puss: A Book of Days for You and Me," and two volumes of stories, "The World's Thinnest Fat Man" and "Some Heroes, Some Heroines, Some Others."

Taylor is a Southerner, a Kentuckian to be exact, but his fiction is decidedly not rooted in what we traditionally call "place" and is not usually concerned with what we think of as the Southern themes of the land, family, race relations, religion, and so on. His fiction is offbeat, as he describes it, "skewed," not realistic. It is somewhat experimental, somewhat symbolist and absurdist. Reading it is a little more challenging, requires a little more conscious, cerebral effort and does not provide the reader with the warm, carried-away-into-another-world-feeling which many readers, including myself, really like.
These 13 stories are typical of Taylor's work, only maybe more so. Themes of lack of communication and alienation predominate. Several of the stories are actually based on dreams, and not happy dreams.

The lead story, "Down on the Dance Floor," is based on a fairly common dream. The protagonist, Jimmy, is 12. He is insecure, self-conscious, shy about girls. At the dance, in a warehouse, Jimmy sees all the girls as wearing "rigid white masks, some with blooded, angled grins; some with blackened frowns curving like sharpened sickles?." Jimmy knows he himself is wearing a mask. "What, he wondered, did his own mask look like?"

This usually adolescent dream is a classic. Youngsters often believe others are hiding their true feelings, their true natures, and the adolescent himself is afraid to reveal his true feelings. All wear masks. This story ends in chaos, bloodshed and nightmare, as nightmares often do.

Another dream-inspired story is "Ontological Reification," based on the frustration dream, the commonest one of all. Usually, in this nightmare you have an important appointment, like a final exam. You just can't get there. You can't find the things you need. You can't find a parking space. The elevators are out of order. Finally, mercifully, you wake up.

In Taylor's story, Rosalind receives a questionnaire, a survey with 7 questions. They are harmless enough. Which Beatle was assassinated?, for example. She fiddles with it and discards it, but it keeps reappearing, and each time there are more and more questions, 10, 15, 20?"Who conceived the Big Bang Theory of the universe?" "What psychologist wrote the book 'Beyond Freedom and Dignity'?"?becoming more and more insistent until the story, the dream, ends.

Of course, though there are plots and characters in these stories, Taylor is more concerned with ideas, psychology, even fantasy, and the stories, like dreams themselves, are sometimes explicitly sexual.

The story "All Lovely, in Their Bones" begins "How many people ever share a dream?" In this tale a man and woman work together and have a strong attraction to one another. Probably they should be together, but at each stage there is a lack of courage or a misunderstanding. Each move and contra-move fails. She hints; he doesn't get it. He touches her shoulder; she involuntarily jumps away. These two characters are connected by shared dreams but cannot connect in the waking world.

"The Great Humus" is a fable in which trees talk and have feelings. Their strongest feeling is that humans, with their constant, frivolous moving about and their ridiculous, arrogant belief in private property, have ruined the world. "Attempting such eternal possession delivered a prideful and vulgar slap against earth's gift of life, a gift too precious to be anything but evanescent."

As might be clear, these stories are dark, a little strange, a little bizarre, a little challenging and not for everyone. But then, what is?

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