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