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“In wartime, there are but a few roles: champion, coward, enemy, ally, fraud. There are merely a few places: field of battle, hospital, brothel, grave.” –from “The Cartographer’s Khorovod”
In the first few pages of Quintan Ana Wikswo’s debut story collection, The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far, you might wonder where you are. You might wonder where you’re going. You might, if you’re the type of reader who likes to be certain about your time and place in space, have to tell yourself to relax. You might have to sit tight and be patient with the unknowing.
I promise you it will be worth it.
The stories here beg borders. They are amorphous and esoteric. Many of them feel like shortwave radio dispatches from another Universe where the edges that separate us are constantly blurring and shifting.
The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far isn’t for the faint of heart. The spaces these stories inhabit are singular, inventive, constantly expanding and contracting. In “The Anguillidae Eater,” the narrator nightly releases her egg to a fisherman, but she is no passive prey. She’s a hunter herself, spearing eels for dinner, and the poetic imagery here—of eat and be eaten, take and be taken—is stripped to a fine, bony essence. It’s a little unnerving, to tell the truth, to experience hunger so raw. In “The Kholodnaya Voyna Club”—gorgeous and elegiac and a knockout example of first-person plural—the “human ghosts” of war pilots KIA gather to train for their last mission—a final visit to the women they left behind. And lest you get the idea that the stories in The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far are all dark and sad (which they are), “On the Sofa in Vilnius” brings the bawdy, sexy undercurrent to the fore, and “The Delicate Architecture of Our Galaxy” veers into comic territory while also being a wise and tender examination of how we carry our parents with us all our lives.
Color photos accompany Wikswo’s poetic, heady language; a series of uncanny images intersperse each story. It’s an unexpected set-up for a collection, but it works—the images lend an unsettling and atmospheric charge.
The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far plays with boundaries, transporting us, as promised in “The Cartographer’s Khorovod,” through the characters and landscapes of war (the settings and the people change, but each of these stories enacts a battle, always with love). Wikswo has an eye for the obscure, and a knack for the tension and echoes of abandoned or compromised places. She focuses with a provocative lens, for sure, and often, an uncomfortable one.
In the collection’s final story, “The Double Nautilus,” a claustrophobic rendering of the circuitous journeys we undertake in our search for love and wholeness, the narrator says, “We are subterranean tunnel lovers, and the single shell now contains us both, with no membrane in between… She says this has been here all this time. That we merely needed the strength to go deep enough.” In The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far, Quintan Ana Wikswo proves herself unafraid of the depths.
The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far
By Quintan Ana Wikswo
Coffee House Press
Paperback, 97815668940506, 277 pp.