Unfamiliar, Like Memory (Alexander Chee, Chloe Caldwell, and my #verygay Reading List)

Author Kate Tooley, on the train, where a good New Yorker does most of their reading.

Author Kate Tooley, on the train, where a good New Yorker does most of their reading.

I know this section of the website is called “Stuff I Write” but I didn’t write this. Kate Tooley did (bio below) and I thank her for sharing her queer reads reflections.

 

There are a lot of things I loved about Pride month this year: adult Drag Queen Story Hour at the NYPL, the flood of challenging articles about queer culture and history, all of lit twitter discussing their favorite queer reads. (Are you sensing a theme here? Because there’s definitely a theme here.) I am that weird book nerd your mother warned you about, and each June I belly flop into a pile of works by queer authors with little grace and total abandon.

This year I read a disorienting mix of Fantasy YA, essays, and experimental fiction. (Shout outs to Jeanette Winterson’s strange and wonderful Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, and the beautifully crafted and impossibly sad Martin and John, by Dale Peck.) Because of my current writing project, I’ve been thinking a lot about non-fiction and memoir and the difficulty of telling a true story about yourself. Two of the books on my list tackle that challenge head on with no protective equipment, and those are the ones I want to talk a little bit about: Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel and I’ll Tell You in Person by Chloe Caldwell. The first came via Erika Franz who’s been poking me about it for a year, and the second through an online list of queer authors talking about their favorite books by other queer authors.

When I first started reading I’ll Tell You in Person it was like listening to Lana Del Rey: immersion in the utterly unfamiliar. Caldwell was fascinating: someone whose life wasn’t wildly different than my own, but who felt like another species. As a person who doesn’t engage well with their own anxiety, the first few stories caused me so much stress I almost couldn’t keep reading; Caldwell’s ability to lock into the horror of interpersonal interactions is both startling and impressive. I did keep reading though, and she hooked me. I think it was “The Music & the Boys” when I realized I had become “going to miss my subway stop” level engrossed.

She has the knack for detail that brings people to life; I loved her stories of being with “the boys”, of her female friends, of the little girl she babysits. For me, this is where her exquisite sense of the chaos of being human really shines. She lays out her personal failures and insecurities like elaborate grocery-store fruit displays, but it’s a parlor trick because she never lets you under the skin. She is chaotic because she’s chaotic; she wanders Berlin depressed because her relationship petered out; she does a rainbow of drugs because she’s stressed. She’s not looking for meaning; even when she suggests a reason for her choices, it’s with a shrug and a raised eyebrow; for the most part she just lays her life on the table and lets you do what you will with it. It’s strange and oddly refreshing.

The way she relates to her feelings about women seems similar, expressing frustration and anger that she should be asked to define herself as queer or that having a relationship with a woman should leave any outward mark on her as a person. Perhaps because being queer meant I finally made sense to myself and allowed me to walk away from the exhausting performance of straightness, I really struggled with this part of the book; it left me… annoyed(?) in an ill-defined way. Possibly it was because she seems to be able, by her own description, to do more or less anything to her life or body without lasting consequences, and I envy that. Or perhaps it’s that I’ve absorbed our culture of definition and dissection, even though it’s only now starting to find words for what I am. Whatever the reason, it made me think, and I am always grateful for that.

Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel couldn’t be more different, and it was a relief after the alienation of Caldwell’s essays. It felt like coming into a familiar room you’ve never seen before but where you automatically know how to find the bowl of peppermints and the broken-in spot on the couch. He had me at “Stars that I would learn were mangos.” and never lost me. Particularly in the first essay, Chee has a way of creating stories within stories, as if half a dozen flash pieces have come together in a beautiful, deeply committed poly relationship. It’s not one long build to a climax but a series of starbursts – essays like geodes where all the small stories reflect back at each other.

One sharp difference between Caldwell and Chee is their relationship to labels and definitions. While they seem to give Caldwell a rash, Chee talks about being called “mestizo” and the absolute relief of feeling ordinary, of feeling that there was a word for him. There’s probably something eloquent to write here about race in the U.S. but I know I’m not the one to do it. I’ll just say that I’m always grateful to authors like Chee who generously share their experience and educate about the varieties of harm and othering we regularly perform on each other. When he says later, "I was always having to be what I was looking for in the world," he is offering to let you feel the feel the weight of that, and it is not inconsiderable. 

In “The Curse”, Chee talks about his childhood belief that observation is a super power. This landed hard with me because as a kid I wanted to be Encyclopedia Brown or Sherlock Holmes and the habit of practiced observation I emulated is probably why I write, or at least, how I write. He says, “I felt sometimes like a camera, shocked when people noticed me.” which got me wondering whether queer people watch more because the world feels so inherently alien. And I couldn’t help but grin when he talked about obsessively drawing eyes. Even now, when I rationally know that I’m not the freak and weirdo people told me I was, stumbling upon little commonalities with other humans is something that blooms inside me warm and comforting.

As I think back for the things from this book that have caught inside me, I realize that Chee’s stories have imprinted themselves like memory – I have to dig them out, not from the place where I remember something that I read, but from the place usually reserved for things I’ve seen or experienced. That happens sometimes with stories, though I’ve never quite parsed out why. There are small points of commonality: I also cater in New York, and I’ve grown roses, but for the most part we share very little in terms of life experience, and yet, in a way now, we do. And my adult self loves that just as much as the little person who found that strange magic in books ages ago. 

Chee on writing is just as vivid and insightful as Chee on life and you quickly realize that here in this autobiographical novel that is not a novel, writing and life are shape shifters moving far too fast for your eye to track. He takes you with him on a lucid, fantastical walk in the woods that is a story of creation and trauma and all the places where the two are stitched together. It is everything that a good fairy tale should be: In spite of its ominous warning: “The price is that you do not get it back after you write it, whatever you took from yourself for its heart.” you still know you will enter the darkness of the trees.

 

 

 

Kate Tooley is a writer and sometimes theater person originally from south of Atlanta. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her wife, a manic tuxi cat, and a struggling basil plant.  Hobbies include getting lost in major cities and sharing weird facts with new acquaintances. Did you know that Weddell seals have to make breathing holes in the ice with THEIR TEETH? Find her on Twitter at @kate_tooley

What to read if you like Gentleman Jack

Suranne Jones (left) as Anne Lister and Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker in the BBC and HBO’s  Gentleman Jack .  (Image from  HBO )

Suranne Jones (left) as Anne Lister and Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker in the BBC and HBO’s Gentleman Jack.

(Image from HBO)

So you like Gentleman Jack? Well, me too. And my wife. My wife and I actually binge watched Season 1 three times while we were off work for our anniversary. (I don’t need to say anything more about that, though.) Anyway. It’s grand, isn’t it?

Jack is in my wheelhouse frankly. A historical cross-dresser? It’s my thing. Actually, it’s a couple of my things.

But, maybe you want more. And maybe you also like to read? (If you don’t like to read, frankly, I’m not even sure why you’re here.) Here are my suggestions.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister

Edited by Helena Whitbred

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The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister is the original text that inspired the series. Helena Whitbred decoded and edited the volume. Her story and that of the journals coming to light are told both in the introduction of the edited journals and on Helena’s website. It should go without saying that this is a historical document and while it may be full of scintillating liaisons with a remarkable number of women Anne knew, it is also filled with a great deal of mundane details, like what she ate at so and so’s house. I love that shit, but then I have two degrees in history. Also, if you’re a fan of the show, and the Ann/es, you may not like the actual historical outcome for Anne and Ann (unless you ship her with Mariana Lawton).

Charity & Sylvia, A same-sex marriage in early America

Rachel Hope Cleves

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Rachel Hope Cleves researched the rural New England relationship of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake in her monograph Charity & Sylvia, A same-sex marriage in early America. In it, Cleves deftly argues that their community valued their presence and accepted them as a couple far more than they were put off by any supposed impropriety of it. Charity, like Anne Lister, left a few broken hearts and scandals in her wake in New England at close to the same time Anne was in England and the Continent until, unlike Anne, settling down faithfully with Sylvia.

Life Mask

Emma Donoghue

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If you like the era of Gentleman Jack, then the aristocracy of Life Mask lived only a little earlier then Anne Lister’s escapades in the series, taking place rather around the time of the French Revolution. It focuses with great historical care on the love triangle among the widower and sculptor Mrs. Anne Damer (all those gay Ann/es), the Earl of Derby (of horse race fame), and the famous comic actress Eliza Farren. Emma Donoghue is a great researcher of the historical women who loved women and I am a huge fan of her work—both fiction and non-fiction. Life Mask fits within a sort of trilogy of 19th century novels exploring class and women along with Slammerkin and The Sealed Letter.

Frog Music

Emma Donoghue

If you find yourself pretty fond of historical fiction with cocksure butches and brazen femmes—no need for smelling salts over here—you could jump ahead to the latter half of the 19th century and across the world to a very hot San Francisco where you might enjoy this murder mystery. Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music jumps around chronologically to let you enjoy Jenny Bonnet, despite her murder, which launches the reader into a fast-paced and sweaty thriller.

Tipping the Velvet

Sarah Waters

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Perhaps the most cocksure of all the Toms and lady Jacks in literature is Nan King in Sarah Waters’s debut novel Tipping the Velvet. Nan has none of Anne Lister’s wealth or status and comes from a later more revolutionary era at the end of the 19th century. Plenty of sexy times with all sorts and a very satisfying arc.


Fingersmith

Sarah Waters

Honestly, the connections between Waters’s third novel and Gentleman Jack are limited to 19th century women navigating a mutual attraction to each other and seeking to secure wealth. But for all that, I had to include Fingersmith because it is the novel Waters wrote. It is full of twists and delightfully unpredictable. (None of her subsequent novels lived up to this one for me, to be honest. My actual recommended reading list for Waters is to read her first three novels in order of publication: Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, and Fingersmith.) In fact, Affinity may have been a better selection, but I like Fingersmith better and find the ending most satisfying.

So, there you have it. Plenty of historical women enjoying other women and having sexy times in both non-fiction and historical fiction. If you know of others you think I should have included, hit me up on social media. Go forth and get your read on!

For the love of [Queer] lit

A small sampling of Queer literature found on my shelves.

A small sampling of Queer literature found on my shelves.

As Pride winds down, I have some thoughts about literature, especially following the Stonewall Rally in New York.

Will books save us right now? Probably not. At least, not by themselves. After all, the fascist right in our country has invested no small amount of their resources in dictating which art our culture produces is permissible and which is not, so a budding white supremacist on his way to full blown neo-Nazi can avoid ideas which might challenge the approved dogmas. This in and of itself suggests the potential power of the verboten art in question.

It also suggests two separate target audiences: those who oppose the authority the current administration and those who are somewhere in the middle ground—either because they are uninformed, unexposed, or simply too comfortable to push the curtain back too far (or are lazy or unbothered by what does not affect them—but they are likely beyond all help, anyway). Into this scenario, I introduce a book club.

Some context: I have a day job. It means I spend less time writing, but it also means I spend less time wondering if the bank is going to reclaim my house or wondering if I should go to the doctor when I feel ill. 2019 saw the launch of our Queer Business Resource Network—among a couple of others.

When it came time to define what kinds of programming we would have in accordance with our values as a BRN, I suggested a book club. I wanted to signal boost great Queer writers and amplify intersectional Queer voices. I wanted to allow my fellow Queers to be seen, and allies or potential allies to see.

We’re still fairly new out of the packaging, can in fact maybe still smell it’s lingering out-gassing on the product itself, but I’m hopeful that the future will provide an engaging voice to many different stories and experiences. But, I also worry. Am I investing work hours in a project that is ultimately only something for me. That doesn’t really boost anyone. It provides no spotlights, nor opportunities for recognition. Time will tell.

We have a significant population of Queer employees, covering an expansive range of identities. How many of us were exposed to ourselves through story? Found that we were not alone in our identity or our tastes, but were merely one individual part of a kaleidoscope of celestial Queer beings walking this earth? Can a book club for a corporate BRN crack open that kaleidoscope for others to see themselves and each other? Is that some very delusional idealism going on? Perhaps, it is.

If I am honest, I question every step I take these days. In an era of righteous injustice, with our government taking heinous, fascist, and incalculably immoral steps to torture, assault, and kill people who are expressly not white or wealthy, I question every single act I take or don’t take. If this isn’t the time for radical action, when is? I’d be lying if I said I was satisfied that I am doing enough to make a difference. I don’t believe I am, and I don’t know for certain what to do when the stakes are so high. (Though, I will say that if I have learned anything in my experiences in organizing against government injustice, it is that someone is already working on the problem you see, so tap into those resources and collaborate.)

At the same time, in this exact moment, publishers are desperate not to be seen on the wrong side of history, by their own admission, so this may just be something of a golden age of Queer publishing. Time will ultimately determine the fall out and legacy on that score. Given that so much of the attention seems to come down to appearances, we’ll see if the tokenism opened doors to us that we will keep open, wedged if necessary. (Or if a new age is coming that will render that metaphor an anachronism.)

So, while it really isn’t much, it is something to have a Queer book club for our company’s Queer and ally population. While it is nowhere near enough, maybe it opens eyes to necessary, living perspectives that shift the conversation or the thinking around who is made vulnerable despite your comfort. Maybe. Perhaps.

I don’t think it is enough for middle class, white Queer people to just exist. That may have been radical enough once upon a time, but we’re allowed to be too comfortable, despite the lingering risks we take to hold hands in public and march in Pride; because the fact is that our stories are normalizing in some areas of our larger mainstream culture and existing is no longer part of the Resistance for us. So existence is no longer enough. Not when transwomen, especially those of color, are being murdered; not when we are separating families at the border, torturing, abusing, and ultimately killing children; not when our kaleidoscope of Queer identities is disproportionately seen among the victims of gun violence.

But, it is a small thing that may drive the urgency of a vote, that may spare someone from the psychological aches that lead to suicide, that may give one more person the courage to come out and stand up. And more practically, in a capitalist society, it may just be what helps get another Queer artist paid, if nothing else.

 In the meantime, enjoy (responsibly—adult content for sure) Roya Marsh dropping some gold that she shared at Stonewall 50 this past weekend. (This presentation, below, was obviously recorded for a separate event.)

Roya Marsh, the 2016 NUPIC Champion, representing Nuyorican Poetry Slam, performing their poem at the 2016 National Poetry Slam Finals in Atlanta, GA.

Raspa Issue 6 Captures the Radical Act of Existing as Queer Latinx in the US Today

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I subscribe to lists announcing lit mags with open submission periods. Sometimes there is a lit mag caters to a specific group of which I am not a part, so submitting doesn’t make sense, but supporting these creators often does. Following the description for Raspa, I found a beautiful treasure trove of Queer Latinx writing and artwork. Perfect new reading for Pride.

The first thing I noticed was how colorful Issue 6 was. The sculpted masks of Joel Hernandez are the only artwork appearing in the journal, adding color to the to the written work of the seven contributors. In comparison to many other literary magazines, Raspa has a brevity to it that makes it a simple task to take in the whole work, guided by the visual accompaniment of a single visual artist. As a result, I felt the stories and poems inside landed with more impact and their echos were more concentrated than I typically experience with more densely packed lit mags.

In its very conception, Raspa is radical art. Layers of Otherness in a hostile climate, where we are literally placing the Latinx people [humans!] who come to our borders in states of desperate need into concentration camps, housing them in ice boxes, separating children and babies from parents, and insisting that basic hygiene isn’t a right; to say nothing of the ongoing erosion of and assault on LGBTQAI+ rights in this country and the challenges of being a Queer Latinx individual writing Latino culture. It dares to give voice to these authors and their experiences and I’m grateful I get to listen. As the editor says in introduction,

The work of queer Latinx artists has taken a heightened role of activism, visibility, and healing under an administration convinced that we are not worth the ideals of the “American Dream.” Our community is especially vulnerable due to the fact that our identities lie at the intersection of race, gender, and class…

The featured artists, diverse in background, present work in this issue that I believe have an impact beyond the page. Pieces that move writing forward through technique, experimentation, and have an emotional impact that I hope our readers will find inspiring. The featured work is meant to serve as the catalyst for healing, coping, and action.

These writers write about life. Tori Cárdenas, for example, writes about a family divided by money in the wake of a death. Oswaldo Vargas writes about being love-struck at the taco truck (and swallowing the city of Morelia).

They write about the collected mysticism of their heritage. Shanya Cordis writes about the collected feminine power of African and indigenous lineages ready to unleash itself in resistance to white colonial imperialism. (Tangent: I want to take all of the courses she has designed and prepared to teach.) Joel Hernandez, the visual artist for the issue, explains in the artist statement about how they drew upon the tradition of masks used in storytelling to create modern masks and stories that grace the pages and cover of Issue 6. He draws on Mexican, Mexican-American, Gay culture in his work.

They write about restraint and release. Marcos Santiago Gonsalez writes three scenes about the compulsion to restrain oneself in the public spaces of the US where immigrant and brown bodies are vulnerable as compared to the stolen moments of release in private spaces. Joseph Delgado-Figueroa, on the other hand, writes of a confusing experience of combined release and restraint, an almost sexual awakening without full consent—of calling the devil and being terrified at its approach—in which, self-awakening is partially initiated, but simultaneously cruelly constrained. It is at once erotic and deeply worrying.

And they write about how complicated love and wanting can be. August Huerta, for example, writes two poems about a frozen moment if snow cave and unrequited love, respectively. While Aaron H. Aceves writes a short story about wanting between two men, in which the narrator wants to be the better choice for the other man.

Issue 6 of Raspa is beautiful: visually attractive, yes, and full of beautifully written poetry and short stories. These are the lit mags, like Raspa—the work of Editors César Ramos and Mónica Teresa Ortiz, and Art Director Sixto-Juan Zavala—that deserve our support, the least bit of the reparations we owe these artists and creators, and opportunity to share them further. Issue 6 is not sold out, yet.

Borders and Impermanence, Reflections where we come from, where we go, and what we leave in Swimmer Among the Stars

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Have you ever picked up a book because the title suggested something specific and desirable to you? Like when you smell something that suggests a certain meal and then crave that meal? How often have you been disappointed when the actual meal being cooked turns out to be something of a completely different taste; when the book actually comes in a completely different flavor? I admit that my disappointment in books selected on this criteria has been routine—far less reliable than my nose is at detecting the meal in preparation, at any rate.

Swimmer Among the Stars, by Kanishk Tharoor, came with back copy from Electric Literature that described the collection as, “Lush, playful, and intoxicated by history,” and I decided between that and the title, I had to have it. I picked it up at a writing conference where I did not hear the author speak, nor had I ever heard of him before I saw his book on the table. I picked the collection up this spring to read as part of my Annual Reading Challenge—”A collection by author you have never heard of before.”

I loved it. Every minute of it, I loved it. Tharoor has a global perspective that covers distance through time and space. The book opens with a quote from Italo Calvino, which in general I consider a good omen for what is to come:

Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreigness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.

—ITALO CALVINO, Invisible Cities

The first story, “Swimmer Among the Stars” is a meditation on language from the last speaker of a language, interviewed for academic posterity. The title comes from the last speaker’s efforts to render the concept of an “astronaut” into the dead language. As with any truly fine short story, it is layered richly, the theme of impermanence is interwoven with themes of family, assimilation, progress, and love. It is a stunning introduction to Tharoor’s language.

No, no. She waves them away. You’re not tiring me. It’s just… until you came, I never thought of my language as a burden, but that’s what it is, isn’t it? You want to take it from me so I no longer have to carry this weight.

It should not be just yours to bear.

Will you do me this favor? Whatever recordings you make of me speaking my language in the coming days, please put together a little package and have it played at my funeral ceremony.

The ethnographers want to hold her. Their words seem to come through a mist. We can do that, they say.

—”Swimmer Among the Stars”, pg. 11

The “Tale of the Teahouse” is a story of demise and the things that matter when faced with demise. Or maybe it is about all of the things we have to lose, the collection of intangibles that can be destroyed through many different types of conquest. It is about reveling in those things even as you will lose them.

It is an interesting contrast to “Cultural Property” in which an Indian immigrant and archaeologist loses love to steal a buried and rusted sword from the Anglo-Saxon site and spirit it away to India. A reverse of the colonizer-colonized role as we know it traditionally, but distilled to the base action, it is the same thing: cultural theft. In this case, the subversion of the usual roles elicits sympathy for the main character. His role in the theft compromises the relationship he is building with his fellow archaeologist and lover. One way or another it seems destined to fall apart and that inevitability seems to speak about the larger distance between the two, then either had anticipated.

One of Tharoor’s gifts is his humor. I can’t remember a story that made me laugh out loud as much as “Elephant at Sea” did. This was both in the situation presented as in the language in which it was shared. It’s hard to imagine ever writing something as funny as, “BRILLIANT STOP TOP PACHYDERM STOP.” Yet, everything about the story is both funny and endearing—and tinged with lost and longing. It is the tale of a diplomatic quandary that develops for the Second Secretary of the Indian Embassy to Morocco when he is told, quite without any useful context that the elephant is en route. What elephant? The one promised to the Moroccan princess when she was a little girl. Quite independently of the diplomatic struggle of the Second Secretary, the elephant, meanwhile, falls in love with the sea!

His humor is evident even in the bleak situations some of his stories present. In both “Phalanx,” a story about two veteran foot soldiers who die fighting the Romans beneath their own elephants, and “A United Nations in Space,” a story in the near calamitous future where climate change has rewritten the globe and the instability eradicates nations in flashes of violence, Tharoor makes room for both tender humor and audible chuckles in otherwise dire situations. Though thematically, these stories share only the same impermanence that each of the stories in the collection describes, and perhaps an added emphasis on the borders we draw and seek to hold down around ourselves as a race at large, the humor that they present is similarly moving.

This tension on the human arbitrariness for borders, on instability inherent in any supposedly stable situation, is also evident in other stories, like the gut-wrenching refugee story, “The Fall of an Eyelash,” in which the strange retreat of moving forward with one’s life, is never detached from the ties to what is left behind, across the map’s lines. And crossing those lines is fraught with many dangers, both physical and existential:

It didn’t help that her work made her think at all times of her homeland. She studied and then taught the medieval poetry of her country. There was something unsettling in the sight of a blond student reciting with perfect meter and inflection a seven-hundred-year-old verse in her language. But why should I be unnerved, she thought, this poetry of love is not just for my people… it’s for everybody.

Even when we do not cross the lines to reposition ourselves, but visit to give faces to people “over there” we get entangled in unexpected ways. In “Portrait With Coal Fire,” the gritty and real portrayal of a foreign man at his work in his home country becomes a struggle for him about how he and his family are seen, or not seen, by the world. What he sees in the glossy magazine, in the filth of his labor, contrasts with the image he holds of his family—the posed portrait the photographer gifted him which lacks the “realness” of the candid “Portrait With Coal Fire” that became this unnamed man’s face to the world.

There is a novella length collection within Swimmer Among the Stars entitled, “The Mirrors of Iskandar” which is a reinvented mythology of Alexandrian romances from the Arabic tradition, hence “Iskandar.” Given Alexander’s propensity for controlling the narrative in his lifetime (we know the histories about Alexander written in his lifetime only through later sources—the historians of many of these executed by Alexander himself), we have always been struggling to find the history of his conquest amidst the mythology, which continued to grow and evolve long after Greece, let alone Macedonia, was relevant as anything other than a tributary to one greater state or another. It is a bold testament to man’s vain attempts to control their own legacy, and to battle the impermanence of their conquests with ever newly drawn borders. These stories range from charming as fuck to a dark eeriness that leaves a chill upon the reader.

The final story, “Icebreaker,” a play on the introductory games we use to meet and establish community in new groups is an unlikely story of telescoping aid intended to rescue the first water craft that gets trapped in the neutral ice of Antarctica, then the next and the next, creating a delightfully absurd game of cultural telephone as subsequent ships from different foreign shores are also trapped and cultural exchange comes piece by piece, ship to ship. It is the perfect ending to a collection that accounts for the struggles with man-made borders and the crossing of these same lines, sharing or losing the bits and pieces of ourselves with foreign peoples, whether in food as in both “Icebreakers” and “The Loss of Muzzafar,” or in other tangible things as in “Cultural Property,” “Elephant at Sea,” and “The Astrolabe,” or in stories as in “Letters Home” and “A United Nations in Space,” and whether these are freely given, stolen, or taken in violence.

But in “Icebreaker,” just as the swimmer in space, we are all on neutral territory, trapped apart, but still reachable. It is a surprising and humorous tale of hope contrary to all other expectations set by our lines drawn on maps, our inevitable impermanence, and the strange legacies we leave.