Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

The Noctambulists & Other Fictions


The Noctambulists & Other Fictions
by Peter Spielberg

2001.

Buy

The Noctambulists & Other Fictions is a collection of spare, deadpan tales in which life's absurdity acts as a gateway to an even more confounding reality. Here, social mores are recycled, like so much scrap metal, in the name of extremist conservation, gender roles are mere foggy memories, and one man's life's work is another's garage sale. As timely and relevant as they are fantastic, these stories make common sense of paradox, and find insight in a world that resists interpretation.


"Withholding" is the story of a modern divorce—"a sensible end to a sensible alliance." Cliff and Connie are little more to each other than the pair of birch armchairs they divide in their break-up. When their detachment begins to crack, however, their apartment is set ablaze, and love jumps through the window, in the guise of a female firefighter. In "Vanishing," a man finds himself, during a power outage, alone in a soulless necropolis. With a bloody foot and his key broken off in the door of a dark and maze-like tenement, he manages to talk a hopeless poet out of suicide, but struggles to escape his own paralyzed life. The "Noctambulists" of the title story are the wards of nursing homes, turned out on the mercy of an unnamed city. Gangs of grizzled senior citizens roam the streets, and the wrap of a cane at one's door at midnight could mean the return of a lost parent, or the arrival of a ghostly houseguest.


Spielberg's latest collection recalls the work of John Hawkes, Robert Coover, and Don DeLillo. These haunting stories, like modern fairytales, draw us unconsciously through the mirror; until we find ourselves half-drowned, washed up on the bank of the East River, our head in the arms of a stranger, looking out at the world we knew, and laughing.


"Equally successful in his saturnine or sanguine aspects, Spielberg re-creates life and death with bristling vigor." —Los Angeles Times


"A brilliant, a marvelous novel.  Mystifying and haunting, the book, like all great art, creates a world."—The Nation


Excerpt


Withholding-


1. Audit


The date of the divorce coincided with their tenth anniversary.  That, Cliff reasoned ahould make it easy to remember.  He preferred even numbers, symmetrical coordinates.  So far, he hadn't fared badly:  wed at thirty, divorced at forty.


It was a formality, a sensible end to a sensible alliance.  Cliff hadn't expected it to be any different.  Their time together had passed so smoothly (a graph of its history would show a gently sloping line, no dramatic zigzags), so effortlessly that Cliff was startled when Connie referred to their relationship as having "gone dead."


Although the choice of cliche (he told himself) was not meant to be taken literally, it bothered him.  He couldn't dismiss it as a dead metaphor.  It made him think of handball, his twice-a-week battle against middle-aged spread in the playground across the street.  He heard the flesh-colored "spaldeen" hit the concrete wall with a hollow pop, saw it roll, rather than high-bound, back to him.


Had their relationship ever had much bounce to it?  Cliff now wondered and got out their photo album to look for verification.  It was a thin volume since both Connie and he were camera shy—a minor irony.  He was a skilled amateur photographer who, were he to indulge his fantasies, could picture himself shooting assignment for the National Geographic.


Their wedding pictures, candid shots taken by a friend as they were coming out of the Municipal Building, were inconclusive.  It had been a blustery day.  Connie's face was half obscured by windblown hair.  She must have been freezing in her pastel-blue suit.  He was wearing a raincoat, collar turned up.  The color had faded from the two photographs from their wedding trip to the Canaries.  Both had been taken with a Polaroid by a street photographer.  One showed them on the hotel terrace, squinting out to sea.  The sun was in their eyes.  The second, taken under the shade of a beach umbrella, had them smiling.  Connie's face was all teeth.  He looked befuddled, his long jaw slack.  No facial hair to hide behind.  He hadn't let his beard grow until after the honeymoon.