New Stories Wednesday 9/12/12

It’s an old saw: truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes, though, it’s even simpler than that, and the truth is fiction. The real world, clear and concrete and measured, can’t capture the truth as accurately as the surreal world inside our minds.

Of course, poet Idra Novey says it more subtly than we can:

“The things I cared about intimately, I somehow couldn’t write about them unless I wrote about them as taking place is some sort of invented, imaginary world,” she tells Paul in his interview this week. “That felt truer to me.”

Novey, a renowned poet whose latest book, this year’s Exit, Civilian, was a National Poetry Series Selection, slips us through various worlds simultaneously: from the Ivy League colleges to prisons—two very different worlds in which she has taught—to the poems themselves, which hew out a space on the page to create worlds of their own.

In the interview, Novey talks about traveling to places that overflow with history. Her poems show a sharp sense of where she is–not only of the world in front of her, but of what a place once was, what it will be and also what it is not, what is happening away from it. This awareness draws her to questions of difference, otherness and disparities between people’s experience in one place and another. “I was always interested in this sense of place and class, these issues of injustice,” she says, and cites her youth in a small Pennsylvania town that was once destroyed by a flood as the root of her curiosity of place. It is a lost world that inspires her, a community that is far from fake but also no longer real.

There’s another dam and another flood this week in Boyce’s piece of short fiction, “Another Wave.” In this story, “you” are the second-person protagonist, a father on a trip to a man-made lake in Northern California.

The story is built around a single moment, in a single place, and yet launched by the events of that moment, “you” end up slipping through infinite, nested worlds. There is the lake and mountains in front of you; there is a world of your memories; there is a world of assumptions, places you imagined but will never visit; there is the maybe-mythological world of God; there are even entire “galax[ies]” that live in every one of your cells. When it comes to tragedy (or any other emotional truth) are these worlds—“history or memory or mythology or belief,” as Boyce describes them—any less real than the trees and water that constitute “reality”?

So where does the real world begin and end? Sometimes, trying to hang too long within that zone will make you feel lost, crushed beneath the brackish layers of flood waters, and you need to slip into another, surreal world to understand.