The Storm That Bears Your Name by Matthew Mahaney
The Storm That Bears Your Name by Matthew Mahaney
The Cupboard Pamphlet, 2015
52 pages. Perfect bound.
Matthew Mahaney’s The Storm That Bears Your Name (2015), from the Cupboard Pamphlet, contains many separate stories within its fifty-two pages of flash fiction. A short history of the unicycle. An origin story for earthworms. An account of the only baby born in New Mexico in 1948. The Storm That Bears Your Name tells these stories with dazzling precision and a keen eye for invention. But beyond speculative histories, this is a book filled with a dread that is both existential and tangible all at once. From the title’s imperative nod to the narrator’s insistent references to memory and a space to be filled, this book leaves the reader approaching each page with an excited, anticipatory fear.
The pieces are all untitled, blending the disparate stories into one uneasy narrative across three sections. One page begins, “We made up a game called every child you see has been kidnapped. It was amazing how easily parents became terrible, evil people.” The piece describes how, viewed in a different light, the normal interactions of parents and their children become something vicious. Another page describes how, once upon a time, ice was the weapon of choice in this land, from large blocks “dropped on unsuspecting members of the upper class” to “new and more creative ice crimes” featuring frozen sidewalks and fake good Samaritans. Another describes how a new star appears every three weeks, and another examines the Wright Brothers’ unknown history of bird murder. The first section of the book, “This Was Before,” is composed of narratives like these: tense examinations of the world as it is in the present moment and fantastical stories about the world that was. In the present and the past of the book, make believe is a source of terror.
The Storm That Bears Your Name contains stories that fall apart, fade away, or vanish. A lost child. Lost time. Lost knowledge. The narrator’s compass “tells [him] everything but what [he] want[s] to know.” Or “the forgetting takes most of the night.” At the heart of the book is a trauma that blurs together cause and effect, past and present. The narrator’s missing son, lost to a storm. The first war, fought over sleep long ago, leads to a nearby war that will start soon. Constantly, there is a real disaster that is tied to disasters of fantasy. Later, the narrator speaks of a dream in which his wife “is always dead before the iceberg has finished eating its way through our boat.” She isn’t dying and she hasn’t died. She’s always been dead. In this book, what’s gone wrong repeats itself in new and beautiful, terrible manifestations. Things go right sometimes, too. Sometimes, the book is set in desolate and mysterious worlds, abandoned factories and high seas. Sometimes, it is set in Paris. Or Ohio. But ultimately, we’re returned to the space left behind. The hole at the center of every page. The eye of the storm.
Some stories explode. Just as the reader begins to settle into the narrative space of the book, sorting out narratives of loss, starting over, and remembrance, Mahaney blows everything up in the book’s remarkable third and final section, the imagery spiraling out of control. The specter of the missing child manifests into the surreal image of boys in the trees, watching the narrator and his wife. These observers note the worlds invented in each moment, offering only slight comment: a message hidden in a deer, an eyelash floating to the ground. It is in this clash of real pain and surreal image, a lost child reconstructed in these lost children hovering over each scene, that the book’s power peaks.
It isn’t surprising to see a flash collection that tells a fractured narrative, where brief blips of story and detail are folded into and fractured across pages of image-based beauty and language-focused writing. But The Storm That Bears Your Name is different. Here, the fracturing is a narrative technique, rather than a form of narrative interference used only as a delivery mechanism for deft writing. Terrible trauma, such as the loss of a son, is both disoriented and disorienting. In this book, both the narrator and the reader are left piecing together what has been broken, fitting the pieces of this narrative puzzle back together in various ways. This is what makes the book’s blend of reality and the surreal so strong. Fantastic escapes are not only an escape to a new world but an escape from one as well. These pieces stand on their own. They can be found in journals such as PANK and Caketrain. But together, they become something more: a story of trauma and a story of the story of trauma, both at the same time.
Some stories contain multitudes. The Storm That Bears Your Name moves between sad and celebratory, traumatic and funny. Some pages are intriguing, tantalizing glimpses of a new world. Some are straightforward and hilarious. Some are both of these at once. Every time I return to this book, I find something new: another angle of narrative or another way of putting the book together in my head. At the same time, I want more. Fifty-two sparse pages is enough to pull me in, but I keep opening the book up, scanning the pages, and leaving half-satisfied, half-desperate. In the end, The Storm That Bears Your Name contains precisely what the narrator’s wife remembers: “Everything. Not Enough.”