Erin Stalcup - A taboo romance breaks the laws of gravity. A female physicist meets Stephen Hawking in a bar. An elevator operator with a genius IQ rides up and down all day enclosed in a metal box
Erin Stalcup, Every Living Species, Gold Wake Press Collective, 2017.
"Bird as beast. Bird as beauty. Bird as spectacle. In Every Living Species, Stalcup looks zoological impoverishment in the eye and refuses to blink. Instead, she turns loss into an exhibition of World's Fair proportions, concentrating her mad microcosm with biotechnology, infrastructure, art, and humanity. In this world, multiculturalism is as much a revolution as it is a climate change adaptation. In this confluence, I recognize Hitchcock and Hurston, Crichton and KUbler-Ross--and in Stalcup, an aviphile of the highest order." - Lawrence Lenhart
Erin Stalcup, And Yet It Moves, Indiana University Press, 2016.
read it at Google Books
In this exquisite debut short story collection, people with unusual jobs and lives embark on extraordinary journeys. A taboo romance breaks the laws of gravity. Albert Einstein writes letters to the daughter he abandoned. A female physicist meets Stephen Hawking in a bar. . . . In the closing novella, All Those Stairs, an elevator operator with a genius IQ rides up and down all day enclosed in a metal box. Author Erin Stalcup explores these lives with remarkable compassion, depth, and insight examining loss and longing, and how our bodies and minds can be both weighted and freed. And Yet It Moves is a powerful combination of both absurdist and realist—stories that literally defy gravity.
Debut author Stalcup’s short story collection takes a look at what is gained and, more often, lost through the not-so-simple act of living.
Stalcup’s stories introduce us to a variety of characters, many of whom we get to know through their frequently unusual professions. We meet an exotic dancer who performs sexual favors for certain clients, a woman who wails professionally at funerals, and a man who helps people write more effective suicide notes. The estrangement these characters feel from their own lives is heightened by the bizarre situations that develop around them—things are rarely what they seem to be. This is not to say, however, that Stalcup relies on the strange or uncanny to explore human loneliness. The most engaging and emotionally powerful story in the collection, “All Those Stairs,” covers two—on the surface uneventful—days in the life of a subway station elevator operator. There are other themes also woven through the collection—how the objects that populate our lives can define us, for example, or the made and missed connections between strangers in big cities. The latter of these is explored most obviously and somewhat ham-handedly in “Brightest Corners,” which takes the form of “missed connections” posted on Craigslist. There are a few other stories that feel as though they miss their emotional marks as well; the pedantic tendencies of the narrator in “In the Heart of the Empire” become the pedantic tendencies of the story itself, which lags. On the whole, though, the world of each story and the lyrical quality of the writing itself are more compelling than the collection’s few shortcomings.
An engaging collection that takes on the love and loneliness lurking in the bright lights and shadowed corners of the everyday. - Kirkus Reviews
The ever-present, everyday magic in Stalcup’s debut collection overlays the mundane world like mist and blurs the lines between the prosaic and the fantastic, in stories that examine life and loss. These losses include a lost child in “Einstein,” in which a dying Albert Einstein writes letters to the daughter he gave away when she was two years old (Stalcup’s choice among the many theories about what happened to the girl, whose true fate is unknown); the loss of self by the hired author of suicide notes in “Ghost Writer”; and lost opportunities in the nonspeculative missed-connections world of “Brightest Corners.” But loss flows alongside restored hope. In “Keen,” professional funeral keener Maeve sings for an otherwise lost soul, and in “Galileo, Hawking, Rabinowitz,” budding physicist Elizabeth Rabinowitz is determined to hunt down the Theory of Everything despite the sexist behaviors of her fellow scientists. Stalcup’s fabulist prose-poetry takes readers on tours of today’s dreams and Nikola Tesla’s memories, her writing surreal but solid enough for the reader to lean against. Stalcup’s work has primarily appeared in literary magazines, but this collection will easily find a home with readers of speculative fictio. - Publishers Weekly
How do we respond to the unseen forces on whose support and permanence we routinely, unblinkingly, sometimes blindly depend? This question is central to Erin Stalcup's debut, And Yet It Moves, a short story collection that gives readers access to a wide-ranging cast of characters, heroes sung and unsung: Einstein, Tesla, your favorite Craigslist stars, ghostwriters, professors, elevator operators, keeners. Often, Stalcup succeeds at making those invisible visible (or, in the case of Einstein, the invisible realms of the hypervisible) by reminding readers of the inherent humanity in persons, objects, places, animals, or—yes—natural phenomena. The process sounds gentler than it is.
"He yelled himself into me" (2), writes Stalcup in "Gravity," the collection's first story, in which "gravity had gone away everywhere" (4). Disorder in the universe: that's what it takes to fall in love, Stalcup seems to suggest, though even a world where you and your flame can float to the ceiling doesn't offer any forever-and-always guarantees. "He doesn't know how to keep me," the narrator of "Gravity" says of the lover. Yes: she is the one leaving. And yes: she prizes her ability to be kept. It is our own self-concept that influences relationships, Stalcup demonstrates: humanity and dignity and decency are not contingent upon company.
Again and again, these stories show the imperfection of human connection, that invisible and yet visible forces at work in our lives. Are we beholden to anyone or thing besides ourselves? I'm not talking about souls, per se, but interiors, points-of-view: we all have those. While love and intimacy is sought and lost, envisioned and never realized (see "Brightest Corners," comprised of a sequence of Craigslist Missed Connections postings), the characters in And Yet It Moves announce the fact that they are not wholly governed by commitments to other people. In the case of "Brightest Corners," for instance, repeated postings from a character who longs to find the dreamy Brooklynite she met at Ikea highlight the odd, blasé capriciousness of the lonesome: "'I do need a new bedspread, but that one doesn't match anything else I own. I mostly just came here because I was curious. I've never been to Ikea'" (119). That, in the above sentence, in love might be substituted with to Ikea is an accurate measure of this unnamed character's fidelity to her own needs and concerns. The primacy of her curiosity dims the mood of the story, tinying the world and reminding readers how isolating it is to be enamored.
Enamored or remorseful or maybe experiencing emotions relative to other people: the object of the characters' feelings is almost inconsequential in this collection, so ubiquitous are the depicted interior labors. Take Albert Einstein. Stalcup's renditions of his letter's to his daughter, Tzvipora, one-fourth of "Why Things Fall," a story built of discrete vignettes. Newton, Einstein, Tesla, and, finally, Galileo, Hawking, and Rabinowitz are each given a section. Though the scientists' accomplishments are referenced and sometimes scene-ified (i.e., the Newtonian apple), even these brilliant individuals are shown to be influenced by feelings, those great, hidden forces: longing, drive, ambition, regret. "I love the laws of the universe, the God who made them," writes Einstein-cum-Stalcup, "more than the God who intervenes in our lives, who makes bodies. I want you to be me and better than me" (148). His attitude is less equation than sequence: you, me, me.
Given that Stalcup's fiction is governed by empathy—indeed, the narrative voice practically insists on eliciting concern and compassion for its disparate characters—I was confused by the times when, as in "In the Heart of the Heart of the Empire," the tone suggests a disdain for the protagonist:
She teaches at a college. She's famous in certain circles, studies shit no one knows about, shit that keeps her up at night. Though, she'd be awake anyway. (15)
It's the harshness of diction—"shit"—and the clipped syntax—"though, she'd be awake anyway"—that surlies the narrative voice, which, in other sections of this story migrates into this teacher's first-person perspective. Yet, I'll admit, despite my bristling, I would be interested to see what might happen if Stalcup decides to vitriolify her fiction in the future.
Often, the prose in And Yet It Moves rocks and sways with a slurry, splicey syntax; other times, anaphora governs entire paragraphs. These affectations accumulate. The book is subject to a consistent rhythm, one where the plots—despite their containing deaths and fucks—never spike or plummet as one might desire. When surprises come, they come quick—and they're less twists than kinks in circumstance. Hypochondriac Lacey of "With Strangers" is also a stripper; Maxwell Jackson's profession as a ghostwriter finds him penning not celebrity tell-alls but suicide notes.
Maybe searching for chaos is futile. Unless an author creates a world in which it is nonexistent, gravity is dependable. (Stalcup makes this explicit in "Why Things Fall": "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing"(164).) The mind, too, when it is active, is dependable: perhaps that is law for these characters. In "All Those Stairs," the novella that concludes the collection, an elevator operator named Cerise works an eight-hour shift before she is able to come home to see her newly-paroled son. Largely confined to an elevator cell, Cerise's thoughts about her life and her habits propel the narrative forward. She muses, at one juncture: "I wonder about my mind, if I will lose parts of it. And if I have how would I know?" (201).
In The Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker proved that not taking the stairs can bear much narrative fruit, and Stalcup confirms his findings. Here, in nearly eighty pages, is a life, which turns out to be, with the rest of the world removed, in essence, a mind. Yes, Cerise's hefty figure is often mentioned; indeed, her desire to eat well is mentioned. But those corporeal details are of little consequence; what the novella reminds the reader is how, as Stalcup writes in "In the Heart of the Heart of the Empire," consciousness "is layered: we all live on top of each other, and under" (13). - JoAnna Novak
In Erin Stalcup’s And Yet It Moves, science, physics, and electricity (the reliably immutable phenomena that connect our universe) are the background for short stories of startling human disconnection and alienation. “Einstein” envisions the letters an aging and ailing Albert Einstein might have written to the daughter he and his future wife conceived, gave away, and never spoke of again. In the longest piece, “All These Stairs,” an elevator operator sandwiches the meager but heartbreaking facts of her lonely life into a stream of consciousness, including rich, detailed descriptions of objects and strangers, while a much-anticipated reunion with the son she hasn’t seen in over a decade becomes another missed connection. “Ochre is the Color of Deserts and Dried Blood” follows newlyweds as they search for evidence of the tribes, families, and rituals that once connected people to the land and to each other.
The beauty in each story is that, though alienation has become the default in each character’s life, the desire to connect is ever present, like a beating heart, no matter how bruised. In some cases, most notably “Keen,” in which a professional mourner sings a lost soul back from the brink, connection prevails. The writing throughout leaves subtle spaces that allow readers to form their own conclusions. Two stories, “In the Heart of the Empire” and “Brightest Corners,” are a bit less successful because these spaces are absent, filled in with set-ups and explanations. This is a solid debut collection with strong cross-genre appeal. - Susan Waggoner www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/and-yet-it-moves/