Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dominoes by Kevin Allardice

This piece in GULF COAST by Kevin Allardice is a work of flash fiction that provocatively sketches the lives, and brushes with death, of three people. To summarize flash fiction seems even sillier than summarizing a short poem, but here goes. The first character is a painter whose Parkinson’s turns him into an abstract painter against his will. The second is an architecture student who becomes inspired by the painter. The student learns he has spatial dyslexia, then tries to kill himself in an Ithaca gorge but fails. The third is an investment banker who, for reasons I don’t quite understand, administers morphine to her cancer-stricken father instead of the arsenic he requested because she read about the student’s suicide attempt.

There are quite a few lines in this piece that vibrate with a tension and resonance that surprise my ear. I enjoy phrases like “the well-ordered precision of his cities beginning to blur and bounce,” which are abundant here. And everybody loves interlocking stories. The themes of transformation, and of the pollination of ideas that lead to the final transformation in life, stand out strongly and I appreciate that. What I can’t grasp are what in a longer work might be called plot holes. The author says that the failed-suicide article led to the banker changing her father’s euthanasia drug. What does one have to do with the other? The connection is not nearly as strong as that between the painter’s work and the student’s outlook. And wouldn’t an art student who becomes an architecture student understand that he had spatial dyslexia long before being diagnosed with such?

In a short work with so many good ideas, though, the complaints seem like quibbling. They don’t detract from the power of a piece that limns the boundary between deliberate action and accidental consequences. A fiction that asks big questions and invents a tone resembling a scientific case study mixed with obituary written by a poet. For these reasons, Allardice’s Dominoes (a heavy-handed name) spurs me to look up further work by him and follow it closely.

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