Caia Hagel’s Acts of Kindness and Excellence in Times Tables

hagelcover-borderI know it’s gauche to gush, as a small-press publisher, about the books you publish; best to let their brilliance stand representatively alone. But I want to take a minute to talk about how excited we were when Hagel’s story came to The Cupboard’s inbox, and to try to get you to understand why you need to read it.

First off: it’s a story about a new kind of superhero who sings in a cabaret act.

Second: isn’t this sort of a perfect reason not to read a piece of fiction?

What I mean is that every time AoKaEiTT gets weird it somehow renders such weirdness irrelevant, or like not-weird. We’ve all read enough categorically weird stories to know their tropes better than we know how to define “trope”. You can go the Lishian route, weirdening up your syntax, or the Barthelmean (now Saundersian) route of dropping in surreal elements. No, these guys weren’t necessarily progenitors, and yes you can argue their weirdnesses stem back earlier. (I can’t tell you how many submissions I read for Prairie Schooner that open with, “Fred Normanson took a left instead of the right he meant to take and found himself lost on the lot of a cloud factory,” or some similar Kafkan* retread.) But anyway weird stories have become enough of a genre of its own that they even pop up from time to time in The New Yorker. It’s a genre with certain expectations that we reward stories for fulfilling—even with those expectations are just “the unexpected”.

AoKaEiTT is great because it doesn’t really let you expect anything, and then sort of delivers it anyway. Also: it refuses to play the game when it comes to its ironic elements. Larry is a twentysomething loner who still often wears the same Spider Man costume his mother made for him when he was a toddler. I suppose it’s been modified, but who cares how? He sings at a bar called The Unicorn. We’re firmly in precious quirky twee territory, but there’s just the right amount of violence and darkness to the characters and the environs—it’s never really clear what Larry does at The Unicorn when he’s not singing, but I’m not sure I’d want to take a look—to save the story from such traps.

I love everything TCPBRD’s published, and usually it’s the most recent thing that’s my favorite, but this one’s my favorite. It’s only $5, and that includes shipping. But really, with an encyclopedia of magic coming up in the fall and lots more surprises, shouldn’t you just subscribe (or renew your now-expired subscription)?
* I understand that “Kafkaesque” is the traditional adjective, but doesn’t this seem to imply that it’s not Kafka, but merely like Kafka? So: “Kafkan”? It reminds me of a discussion I once had with a friend of mine about whether two gay men having sex with each other could be called “homoerotic”. Can it? It’s confusing.

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