Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 24: “The Witness and the Passenger Train” by Bonnie Nadzam

      A man stands alone in the black night watching a passenger train speed past. Its yellow-lighted windows are splashed with colored hats and coats; flashes of silverware and glassware; with shoulders in black jackets and bright wool sweaters; with pointed and rounded and upturned noses. Three men in hats are drinking glasses of beer. The children dunk strips of buttered toast in cocoa. An old man snores like a happy pig, his mouth open, his giant milk white teeth exposed. A young mother pulls a picture book out of her giant purse. Everybody on the train is warm with that consoling feeling of being on an adventure.

          from “The Witness and the Passenger Train” by Bonnie Nadzam

“The Witness and the Passenger Train” is both the name of the Watchlist story by Bonnie Nadzam (author of Lamb) and the title of an academic paper by husband-and-wife scientists Dr. Flame and Dr. Flame, the central characters in Nadzam’s story. If I understand it correctly, the basic thesis of the Flames’ paper is that the train passing in the night owes its very existence to the fact that the man standing alongside the tracks is witnessing it. In other words, we create what we see and the world is whatever we imagine it to be. This leads to all sorts of boxes within boxes within boxes as we go deeper into Nadzam’s mesmerizing story (a story which, naturally, she herself created and we brought into existence by passing our eyes across the little black ants of text on the page). Eventually, we find ourselves up in space, floating weightless with Dr. Flame and Dr. Flame as they peer through a telescope back to Earth where, when they zoom in, they can see themselves standing in a field looking up at the night sky, at the stars, at a spaceship in which they look back at themselves. Yeah, mind = blown.

Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.

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