EILEEN TABIOS Engages
The Ruin of Everything by Lara Stapleton
(Paloma Press, San Mateo, 2021)
At one point of reading through Lara Stapleton’s second short story collection, The Ruin of Everything, I paused to consider the feeling of having forgotten but then remembering the sheer pleasure of the “short story” form. In short, I’m delighted that she’s come out with a second book after her first short story collection which was released in 1998, The Lowest Blue Flame Before Nothing (Aunt Lute Press).
If you could only read one of the nine short stories, “New” makes the release of the entire book worthwhile. And “Flesh and Blood” also passed my key test as not just a reader but a writer: the story made me want to run to my own pen or keyboard to write. The stories are engaging but the writing is also a writer’s writer’s delight: characterizations are not just deep but sumptuous, structures are not just innovative but fresh, and the narratives are both finely detailed but interspersed with psychological caesuras for maximizing the reader’s inhabitance.
One of the book’s great strengths is that it is stuffed with insight—both psychological and philosophical. This author is not merely an experienced writer but a lucidly experienced human being, one who has observed much and thoughtfully parsed through her observations such that she can create sentences which are not just moving a plot forward but share larger meditations on the human condition.
It’d be too easy to say that some stories are better than others—that would be the case for any collection whether short story, poetry, or essays. Both of the first two short stories elicited a similar thought: they seemed more like sketches for a later work, an impression that would not make either my favorite among the group of stories. But if one were to read The Ruin of Everything as not just a short story collection but a larger single book, the all of it coheres, especially if you read through to the book’s last word. It is the last story, after all—“Flesh and Blood”—that brings to the forefront the logic that makes this book a circle. The author’s experimental approach brings forth ending words for each story that create redemption, not just for its characters’ experienced sadness but the diluted linearity of its tales.
In all of the stories, characters suffer. But despite the abundance (!) of such suffering, in turn making logical the collection’s title of The Ruin of Everything, these stories are not primarily on suffering. These stories delineate nothing less than kapwa-ridden Love. I share the back cover description as a preface to the last—one more—paragraph I want to say about The Ruin of Everything; here’s the book’s description (click to enlarge):
Stapleton shares something with poets and, in fiction, Jean Rhys: a superb mastery of the evocative. When philosophy is made evocative and its topic is love, the author is blessed and the reader conspires to make fulsome that blessing. As Stapleton writes, and I paraphrase, The gift is in loving, not in being loved. This book's tales are treasured as, and because, they resonate and specifically resonate themselves into becoming personal.
Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. In 2021, she released her first novel DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times and first French book La Vie erotique de l’art (trans. Samuel Rochery). Her 2020 books include a short story collection, PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora; a poetry collection, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019; and her third bilingual edition (English/Thai), INCULPATORY EVIDENCE: Covid-19 Poems. Her body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21stcentury diasporic poetic form, and the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity. Translated into 11 languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is at http://eileenrtabios.com