burrow press

Wally – Review by Lavinia Ludlow

Wally is a chemically imbalanced playwright in his late twenties who claims he is a part of a generation who has “lost the ability to be inventive,” and rather than wallow in “nothingness” and career ambivalence, he embarks on a mission of self-discovery in hopes of pulling himself from his troubled state of mind.

“I plan to communicate with you the old-fashioned way: through hand-written letters,” Wally writes to his wife, Elizabeth. “I’ll send the entire bundle once my therapeutic journey is complete…I realize that this is one-sided and inconsiderate; I’d certainly be a better husband if I updated you in real-time, but…I cannot experience a psychic transformation if you’re making me feel guilty about it.”

Don Peteroy presents Wally through a series of borderline-neurotic letters dated over the course of ten days as Wally treks across the United States and north through Canada. While stopping at random coffee houses, bagel shops, Denny’s restaurants, gas stations, campsites, and cheap motels, he reveals the painful memories of his childhood, his struggles as an adult to maintain a stable job, and the events leading up to the moment he first abused his wife by slamming a piano guard down on her hands, breaking two of her fingers.

Knee-deep into the novel, Wally admits how his grandfather, Marvin, would sprinkle Wally’s sandwiches with Ajax and kitty litter, stab him with safety pins, and line his soup with tinfoil: “He’d jab my leg with a safety pin he always carried. ‘That’s for safety, he’d say. ‘Always be alert. You never know what’s going to happen next.’ I endured the poking for years. By sixth grade, my legs and thighs were an astrological map of the universe’s reddest stars, a constellation of just how unsafe I was. Sometimes I wished he wouldn’t be so subtle, that he’d use a knife and just stab me in the thigh. Get it over with––one massive red supernova.”

Though the horrific abuse leads Wally to exhibit core emotions and behaviors of an extremely disturbed man, he never lapses into a “woe is me” point of view; he conveys the facts of his grandfather’s abuse with control and humility, and often uses dark humor, as if to distance himself from the reality of what happened: “I recall a book report I wrote that year. It was about child abuse. I got a C…Granted, it was horribly written, but I’m shocked that my teacher failed to recognize it as a cry for help… As an assurance, I wrote: You cannot be sued for reporting abuse. The kicker: at the end of the essay, I included the 800-number for the National Child Abuse Hotline.”

Peteroy has an amazing writing style, and his ability to convey an emotion or explore an image is breathtaking: “Shafts of sunlight shine through the tree branches, intersecting in a vast, golden cobweb. I can see the lake from my campsite if I stand on top of a rock. It’s like an iridescent silver coin bashed into the ground. When I stand, I see the sky’s blue refection on the water. When I sit, I see the inverted image of green trees. Had I not known any better, I’d be under the illusion that my positioning can change the properties of the lake’s surface.” At times, the narration feels a bit self-absorbed, as if I was reading the diary of an ADHD depressed and entitled Generation Xer; however, the stream of consciousness delivery effectively allows Wally to reveal details of his traumatic past with effortless transition.

Wally eventually reaches his destination in northwest Canada where he has a mundane exchange of dialogue with a stranger about a Soundwave Transformer he never received as a child (a toy he coveted so much, even into adulthood, that he put it on his wedding registry). This fizzling scene contrasts the book’s climax; at which point, in a guilt-ridden admission, Wally answers one of the book’s major questions: what atrocious thing did he do to his wife that caused him to flee town for the utmost northern region of Canada? [spoiler alert: that <insert explicit noun here> stooped just as low if not lower than Marvin by poisoning her with Ajax]

An epic emotional journey, Wally is more than a slew of diary entries and letters home. This novel uncovers a man’s psychological transformation as his medications leach from his system, and he travels the distance of nearly two countries. Wally exposes how his dysfunctional and abusive upbringing has left him a shattered man who passes his childhood horrors onto the only person who has ever truly loved and trusted him. A hard-hitting and beautifully written book, Don Peteroy takes readers on a gravely emotional and thought-provoking journey, one that resonates long after Wally reaches his destination. Available for purchase at Burrow Press: http://burrowpress.com/wally/

Fragmentation + Other Stories – Review by Lavinia Ludlow

I hear so much about the momentum of New York City’s literary scene, a ton about Chicagoans wielding pens, but I rarely hear about places such as the Silicon Valley, and even rarer, Orlando. Recently though, a quaint and ambitious publisher named Burrow Press has sprung from Central Florida. Operating out of Urban ReThink, Burrow Press’s mission is to shed light on Florida’s undiscovered and modest talent, and it has indisputably achieved this with the recent release of its debut title Fragmentation + Other Stories.

Overall, this anthology’s strength lies in its broad content and well-rounded approach to honoring Florida’s talented artists. The content spans multiple markets: literature, photography, design, and even music (Swamburger, a local hip-hop artist, not only wrote and recorded a soundtrack for the book but he also designed a special edition cover), thus adding to the book’s charm. Definitely a load of “heart” was put into this compilation, and editor Jana Waring’s introduction tells the intimate story of defragmenting the jumbled “clusterfuck” that would metamorphose into Fragmentation, and ultimately seed the collection into what it is today.

One of the most impactful pieces in Fragmentation was the opening story, the glue of the anthology, a ninety-two word one-sentence story about dismembering starfish that Peg Alford Pursell delivers with unparalleled eloquence. I’d insert a quote; however, that may put out too much of the story (and steal profits from Burrow Press), but I will say that this hook had me breaking in the back cover page in the same sitting.

Many of these well-written stories have impressionable openings, take Hunter Choate’s “Bone Dry,” “I close my eyes and see the baby in the bone yard. It’s crying and carrying on, a purple frustration blooming as its face twists and its little hands claw at the air. It’s the only sign of life in the middle of a pile of sun-bleached bones.” Then there’s J. Christopher Silvia’s prose in “Thursday,” a balance between sharp dialogue, internal monologue, graceful observations, “It was a Thursday, and I had been noticing that the ringing in my ears was becoming lower and lower in pitch. With each new tone I pictured the different cilia on the inside of my ear collapsing under the air pressure, limp like the freshly dead.”

In Ryan Rivas’ story “Pedagoguery,” the reader is led through first-hand experience of what it’s like to be a new teacher thrust into an merciless classroom: “In addition to the thermos of coffee steaming in the cup holder, you bring your first day’s plans, a Kundera novel, a lunch bag containing turkey and cheddar on wheat, carrot sticks, and crackers; you’ve been told the students come from poverty, so you bring pens, pencils, loose-leaf paper—the term “loose-leaf,” as it enters your head, reawakens those first-day butterflies from your career as a student—notebooks, binders, pocket dictionaries, calculators (even though you teach history), granola bars, trail mix, a gallon jug of water; you bring a picture of Rasputin (your black Lab), jazz and classical CDs to play during independent work time, and a poster of the man staring down a tank in Tiananmen Square; you bring a few tips from teacher orientation, a BA in history from Florida, an undergraduate thesis on political assassinations in the 1960s, a MFA in creative writing from Columbia, three short story publications in respectable literary magazines, a positive attitude, white middle-class values, an easygoing nature, and your sense of self.” Rivas has the impeccable gift of cramming mountains of explanation into a single sentence, and he does this without making the read exhausting. This single sentence alone, in my opinion, would make an extraordinary opening line to a novel, and I look forward to his future endeavors.

Tom DeBeauchamp’s “Skullfucker: A Romance” hit me the hardest. A socially deficient protagonist finds comfort in his personality flaw as he imagines his perfect counterpart: “We’d order oyster shooters and happy-hour well gin, and the bartender would eject us for language. Back to my place for talk and drinks, and movies and cuddling, and uncoordinated first-time sex. Quiet days of divine understanding would give way to one lambent moment where she’d look at me and I’d look at her. Together, like a flock of geese, we’d say, ‘Skullfucker I love you,’ and move on to the bold things we couldn’t yet imagine.” The story’s accompanying photograph by Zach Stovall is a total trip too, and I’m thinking figurines like those will one day make it onto the top of my wedding cake.

All in all, this collection maintained my attention organically, never relying on overused messages or content. Each flash sustained an even pace, the extreme opposite of what’s to be expected with a book that opens with a phrase like “a clusterfuck.” It’s hard to accept that a total of twenty-six writers, photographers, and other artists came together to create this 132-page anthology. Nothing was left unpolished, everything from the writing to presentation to design to the placement of visuals were intricately pieced together like tiles of a mosaic.

Burrow Press has surpassed its goal of highlighting Florida’s emerging talent, as Fragmentation + Other Stories is mature contemporary artistry at its most refined. I can tell this small publisher has a brilliant future in Orlando’s literary scene, and I look forward to whatever it has waiting in the wings.

-Review by Lavinia Ludlow