If I Would Leave Myself Behind, by Lauren Becker. Curbside Splendor Publishing. 120 pages. $14.95.
Brian Alan Ellis
Lauren Becker’s If I Would Leave Myself Behind is a tiny, poetic, and quite durable (I spilled coffee on it) book containing an episodic novella and several quick-burst short stories where many of the characters are either left or leaving.
Her people are in a constant state of readjust—they have neighbors they can’t connect with; past relationships which have either lost meaning or have taken on other meanings; pets to tend to rather than children; secrets which have shaped their lives in offbeat ways.
In “Go Lightly,” an only child familiar with being alone observes her marital separation with clinical, no-bullshit nuance: When my husband left, he took almost every trace of him. He left only the things he had given me or did not want. My ring, the cat, the pepper spray. She refuses to be a “tiny wife” who mothers grown men; she’d rather fantasize about vacations she will never take, or observe the rebelliousness of her neighbor’s teenage daughter. Her loneliness is as simple and as perfect as weather: I arrived home, turned on the television for noise and fed the cat. She has a name. The rest faded.
There’s “Willow,” an anorexic girl whose only interest in having sex is to cut calories; the Jeopardy winner from “Where Is San Diego?” who doesn’t have all the answers; the tacos-and-fornication enthusiasts of “First and Lakeshore”; the charming hemophiliac from “Every Day is Christmas”; and the couple in “Do You Know Jesus Christ?” who make a beer and candy run at Walgreens only to befriend a religious checkout lady: I wondered why these Jesus Christ ladies liked makeup so much. It looked like it probably made her face feel heavy. Like Jesus Christ might need to support her chin or something. But I liked her false eyelashes. I wanted some.
In “The Weather in Philadelphia,” Becker crafts a stunning, first-round-length knockout, juggling humor and pathos brilliantly: My dad calls to tell me he’s peeing blood. I know he’s dying. I ask “Are you dying?” He says no. I tell him to save his urination stories for his doctor. He tells me he’s dying.
When writing fiction that is empathetic to common, emotionally trodden persons, comparisons to Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel can sometimes be an unfortunate inevitability. However Becker’s pithy, cut-glass prose stylin’ and profilin’ is really all her own, and If I Would Leave Myself Behind is an artful reawakening of the short-story form. Becker owns it. She is a champion for unique characters who hold no title.
About the author:
Brian Alan Ellis lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and is the author of The Mustache He’s Always Wanted but Could Never Grow, 33 Fragments of Sick-Sad Living, and King Shit (with Waylon Thornton). His writing has appeared in Skive, The Whistling Fire, Zygote in My Coffee, Monkeybicycle, DOGZPLOT, and Atticus Review, among others. If he would leave himself behind, he’s sure nobody would care to look for his ass.