Robert Freeman Wexler contacted me after seeing my review of Song of Time by Ian MacLeod; he was the designer for that book, audiologist and had apparently liked my review of it. In addition to being a book designer, he writes. This work is a chapbook, a smallish book of about 64 pages with a paper cover; it’s held together with staples, and most of the stories are printed in a two-column newspaper-like format. In addition to this collection of stories, published by Spilt Milk/Electric Velocipede Press, he has a novel from PS Publishing due out in 2009. He lives in Yellow Springs; his wife, Rebecca Kuder, is also a writer. They have a small child (about a year old) together.
The chapbook consists of five previously-published stories and one previously-unpublished one; the titles are as follows: “Suspension,” “Tales of the Golden Legend,” “Valley of the Falling Clouds,” “The Green Wall,” “Indifference,” and “Sidewalk Factory: A Municipal Romance.” The first is about a man with four arms having an epiphany in the snow; the second is about bread speaking to various people; the third is a sort of Western story; the fourth is about a man who works in an art gallery and comes home to find a rainforest projected on his wall; the fifth is about a man whose wife has recently left him; and the last story, the previously-unpublished one, is about a governmentally-repressive near-future society and a man’s attempts to break out.
This collection, and his work in general, has been described by the author as “on the fringes of genre.” I’d say that’s accurate; while each has some sort of magical element, it’s hard to say whether it’s magic realism, or urban fantasy, or lit fic, or any of the other sorts of pigeonholes that we’ve come up with for stories with magic. In the introduction by Zoran Živković, the title is deconstructed in relation to the fringes of genre. Traditional large New York publishing companies are making decisions based on what books can sell, not what books are artistic achievements, and in that situation, many great books on the fringes of genre, or those even just in unpopular genres, are overlooked.
I have no idea if Mr. Wexler (incidentally, there’s a Congressperson named Robert Wexler, so if one is Googling, include the ‘Freeman’) is a great writer who has been ignored by New York, but I do know that his stories haunted me after I read them. “Tales of the Golden Legend” especially; I sort of felt guilty about toasting some frozen bread earlier this week. I don’t know that it would have occurred to many other authors to write a story about talking bread; I don’t know that it would have occurred to many other authors to write a story about a four-armed man without weighing it down with backstory. Overall, I’d definitely say that Mr. Wexler is a highly imaginative and creative writer, and these stories are rather unlike any others that I have read.
Although they are fairly original, I’d recommend this chapbook (it’s only $5, according to the cover) to fans of Kelly Link, Jai Claire, and even probably Charles de Lint; although Mr. de Lint’s stories are a bit more traditional in format and subject matter, he also includes one magical element in his tales. Superficially, too, Mr. de Lint puts out a chapbook every year around the holidays, and those who like the compact format and a taste of an author’s works may like to try Mr. Wexler’s work in the same way. (The only problem I have with chapbooks is that they don’t hold up to Cleveland weather very well.) One of the short stories in this collection, “The Green Wall,” seems to be related to his upcoming novel, The Painting and the City; I am very much looking forward to reading it. 4.5/5 stars.