By Zoran Zivkovic (Kurodahan Press; 2010)
I’m firmly convinced that anything by Zoran Zivkovic is worth your time, and that’s definitely true of this strange and wonderful five story collection. Drafted in Zivkovic’s usual clear and uncluttered prose, it’s quite short (161 pages of large printing) but contains enough wisdom and imagination to fill a sci-fi trilogy.
The title piece is a novella-length exercise in dreamlike frission, with a man rushing to board a departing train. A sympathetic conductor helps him aboard, which binds the two. The conductor, a lovesick sad sack, leads the protagonist into a succession of increasingly odd encounters with several highly eccentric individuals on-board the train, in time for a hopeful and redemptive finale.
Another of the stories, “The Square,” achieves an equivalent level of imaginative bizarrie. It consists of a triple-pronged narrative presented in four chapters. Each chapter finds the three workaholic protagonists, all unaware of the others’ existence, undergoing similar experiences involving the discovery of some literary or audiovisual device that draws them out of their mundane lives and into the town square, where a certain ecstatic transcendence is in store.
A further standout is “The Teashop,” which like “Compartments” involves a fateful train ride. In this case, though, the protagonist, an inquisitive young woman, begins the tale by disembarking from a train. She enters a teashop and, upon ordering a “Tea Made of Stories,” gets quite an earful.
Rounding out the collection are “The Telephone,” about a man who receives a series of suspicious phone calls by someone claiming to be Satan, and “First Photograph,” whose narrator attempts to explain a photograph of himself as an infant with his ear intently pressed against his mother’s stomach; apparently he was listening for the heartbeat of his unborn twin brother, who chose to shrink himself down to quantum size rather than be born. It’s impossible not to be drawn into this tale and its four companions; all represent pure, unadulterated Zivkovic, and I guarantee they’ll leave you wanting more.