TL; DR verdict: RECOMMENDED
I will admit that it took me forever to read this book for very petty reasons. See also: Reading the winning poem of a contest I lost.
However, just as not reading that winning poem would be childish and wrong and a missed opportunity, so was not reading Joe Kapitan’s A Pocket Guide to North American Ghosts (which actually won the year before I entered anyway, so double-reedick).
I write a lot of short essays, and it has so far proven difficult to get too many folks to seriously consider them for a collection. This summer I have committed to making some real and serious progress on my to-be-read pile, and I’m starting with the numerous prose chapbooks I’ve been collecting at previous AWPs and elsewhere. Hopefully, this scholarship will make my next round of chappy subs stronger.
So, back to the review: Kapitan’s book is ostensibly fiction, autobiographically-shaped themes notwithstanding, but the attention to small details has an almost researched quality that I love. This collection also does one of the things that I like good nonfiction to do: it forges a connection between the reader and the writer.
In these ghostly tales (which include ghosts of lost and stolen love, children, jobs and more), Kapitan is a deft editor: the reader is given exactly what she requires to paint the full picture, and nothing more. There seems to be an epidemic of overuse of the sentence fragment in a lot of flash prose (including a lot of my own, I’ll freely admit), and Kapitan refreshingly bucks this trend with long, gamboling sentences rich in clauses.
For example, in the opening piece, in which the sleepless narrator imagines all of his ex-girlfriends living together in a cabin in the woods, we learn so much about the narrator’s text and subtext in his stream of conscious riff: “… they grow their own baconless food, and tend a sprawling flower garden, full of the varieties I never bought them occasionally, but mostly they are just “there for each other”, “emotionally”, which was always the point at which I jammed their signals and drifted down the dial to booze or strippers or coke, and that happens to be exactly what they’re all talking about right now, around their campfire…”
Or in the piece titled, “What I’d Say to Your Tiny Miscarried Self” which consists of an imagined monologue that includes this: “my God, look at you, I’d marvel, you’ve got your mother’s something and my something else, the details aren’t important, which reminds me, we saved that black and white image of you, the glossy grainy one that shows a white lump, with a larger white lump they said was your head, although we would have believed the opposite, too, so ripe to trust whomever, whatever.” If your heart is not yet broken, give it approximately ten more lines.
The sting from a couple of these stories promises to linger much longer than the silly sting of losing a contest.
Kapitan’s short pieces have appeared in all of the usual best-short fiction suspect journals, including Wigleaf, decomP, PANK, elimae, SmokeLong and others. You can buy the book and read an excerpt here at Eastern Point Lit House Press: A Pocket Guide to North American Ghosts by Joe Kapitan.