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Politically Inspired: Fiction for Our Time 

A gemlike collection of 30 short stories, ranging from comic and satirical to ironic and sad

Wednesday, Jan 28 2004
Edited by Stephen Elliott

MacAdam/Cage (2003), $13

San Francisco-based novelist Stephen Elliott has put together a collection of inspired fiction reflecting our post-9/11 culture. The 30 short stories (and cartoon art) of Politically Inspired range from comic and satirical to ironic and sad, and include plenty of sock-in-the-gut moments of self-recognition.

The most stylistically accomplished piece is by Ben Greenman, who is, not surprisingly, an editor at The New Yorker. His "Mr. Mxyzptlk's Opus" views the attacks through the eyes of a jinx that occasionally bedevils Superman in the comic book by that name. Michelle Tea's "9/11 L.A. Bookstore" is the free-flowing memoir of an artsy, depressed lesbian who bounces between Los Angeles and San Francisco hunting social sanity -- and is well worth reading. The Bay Area's Anne Ursu borrows a literary conceit from Franz Kafka for her story "The President's New Clothes," in which George W. Bush wakes up transformed not into a cockroach, but into a pre-pubescent boy. The youngster, of course, wakes up inside Bush's body, and continues running the United States. Fortunately, the conceit works. San Francisco's own "professional dominatrix and sex educator," Mistress Morgana, penned "All in a Day's Work," billed as the "session notes" of sado-masochistic encounters with high government officials, such as Attorney General John Ashcroft. It's a fine story that should be required reading for detainees everywhere.

My favorite piece is "The Vampires of Draconian Hill," a poem in the style of Edgar Allan Poe written by Brian Gage and illustrated in deep blacks, grays, and muted whites by Von Do. The mini-epic tells the tale of vampires who roam the countryside at night, eating poor people, while their "children," i.e., American consumers, grow fat and lazy: "'Believe in the globe,' vampires implore./ 'Pay you no mind to our hands bathed in gore./ Pay you no mind to the bones in our bins,/ Nor deep crimson blood dripping fresh from our chins./ We are your protectors, providers, and clan./ We bathe you in goodies and rubies and flan.'"

The ending to this wonderful poem is as chilling as the socio-political reality of which it speaks. The piece is a jewel among jewels.

About The Author

Peter Byrne


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