BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
“The Fry Pans Aren’t Sufficing” is a book I couldn’t put down. It’s a collection of short stories published by Lavender Ink Press, and a triumphant debut, by Peyton Burgess. These stories are gorgeously brought to life in three parts that weave together so naturally, I often felt I was reading about myself, or my friends, or some long lost best friend from my dreams. I believe in these stories.
The first story brilliantly starts off the collection with the idea of dislocation—which is the prevalent theme throughout the book. Gil, the narrator, is forced to live with at his girlfriend’s mom’s house after Hurricane Katrina. All he wants to do is go home, have privacy, and make love. He gets none of these things—at least not in the way he wants. He wants a life he can no longer have. The beautiful thing about the way story starts is the fact that the reader knows automatically that Gil isn’t going to find the comfort and love he yearns for, just as we often don’t in the exact moments we want to.
And that’s what Burgess does so well throughout the entire book—he manages expectations tremendously. We aren’t disappointed by the lack of a “happy ending” for most of the characters, but we also don’t feel as if the worlds he paints are too bleak either—they exist in that perfect space between beauty and the grotesque, between luck and unluck, between love and hate, between destruction and rebirth. All of the characters want, and desperately need, a new start. Sometimes they get one, and sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they don’t even know.
Everything, like our own lives, exist in the muddy lines we draw in the sand as we try to build our lives in a sandcastle:
“I’d have a feeling we’re Louis Prima and Keely Smith reincarnated. I’d climb up the ladder and grab a corner of the big blue tarp on our roof. Baby Girl would holler as I pull with what strength I have and send the trap cascading into the front yard.
On the air mattress, we’d agree to make love one last time because why not. The stars and the steeple would watch us through holes in our roof, and we’d hear the banana trees in the backyard applaud our performance, and maybe we would.
“Do you want me to tell you it gets better?” Baby Girl would ask.
I’d tell her, No, but she would do it anyway. I’d breathe in the humidity and I swear I’d smell the scent of the jasmine vines blooming instead of mold.”
These same moments—of emotional dislocation, of feeling lost and adrift on one’s own life—are seen over and over again. Many of these characters, like us, need a new story. And how they get it, of course, isn’t always an easy fix. Yusef Komunyakaa has said the stories "coax the reader into moments of shared feeling, into truth, reflection, and simple beauty." That's some pretty high praise--but also well deserved.
"In “Grancy and Bapoo Are Good Grandparents,” the grandsons are at that strange age where they are just at the brink of puberty. They are possessive of their babysitter and their grandmother (who they think looks like the “American Sophia Loren”):
“The first time Vince was really conscious of his cock, as more than something to just pee with, its sensitivity and the troubling control that it would have over him, was when he was baptized…That night, at around ten, he masturbated for the first time…Vince and his brothers don’t attend Baptist church anymore. Grancy and Bapoo are Catholic.”
Even with the seemingly small transition of going to one church to another, and the secrecy that comes with exploring one’s own sexuality, emphasizes the displacement humans feel when they create secret worlds, and feel out of place. Again, Burgess does a fantastic job of writing about displacement and vulnerability—creating a world of lost boys and girls, women and men—without it feeling kitschy or cheap. This is real life.
I honestly can’t wait for Burgess’ next projects—and to see where his writing takes him.
Peyton Burgess lives with his wife and son in New Orleans where he teaches at Loyola University New Orleans and works in the Monroe Library. He is a graduate of the New York University MFA program, and his work has appeared inSalon, Chicago Quarterly Review, Banango Street, Fiction Southeast, and Big Muddy, among others.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (forthcoming 2016, ELJ Publications) & Xenos (forthcoming 2017, Agape Editions). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of her writing has appeared in Prelude, The Atlas Review, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She has lead workshops at Brooklyn Poets.