This collection of short stories aims for the space between malls and war zones, the slippery slope that leads any of us to either place or both at once and, with a little hope and imagination, the road to our escape.
Meet the obsessive who prides himself on coughing during a Horowitz performance....the father of a penguin who one day will fly...the woman who saves herself by eating mud...and the fellow who hovers like a helicopter in the hum of his favorite bar.
Excerpt from Ukrainamerica:
All the while I was growing up, Alex (my father is dead and I will call him what I want; I control things here) liked to roll the names of American states on his tongue: "Ohio," he would say, or, "Nebraska, Kansas," his ridiculous pronunciation making them sound like exotic planets. He told me when he said their names he imagined souls blowing across the plains. Then he would show me these states on a map. Then he would sit back in his chair and drink the coffee and smoke the cigarette. Then he would fall asleep in the chair, mumbling the names of obscure saints, snoring, dreams blowing out his nose. Then while he slept I would whisper to him, "Instead of me I could be an American girl, you know, dreaming of what it's like to be a Ukrainian girl." It happened exactly this way every night, until everything changed and the fable of the Kazlouskas took its mysterious turn.
It started with rumor, followed by intrigue and backdoor dealings, until finally of course communist theory and then communist practice fell apart. Even though I followed things on television and in the papers, the events leaked out of my mind. The past and present became interchangeable. Just as Alex's days at the factory had once stumbled one day into the next, so the factories began to close, ten folding into nine, nine into eight and so on until the husks of factories hung in the blue sky like broken-necked criminals.
One day I found a job at the brand new McDonalds. Alex stayed home or wandered the streets, smoking incessantly, trying to set himself on fire. He would visit me at the restaurant. "What is this ******* music?" he'd ask, and I tried to explain the American love songs. "It's soothing," I said, because someone had told me the music was supposed to be soothing. "It doesn't soothe me," he said. "It makes me want to carve my ******* ear canals out of my skull."
"Daddy, it's a restaurant and they play music. It's an American restaurant so they play American music. If you buy enough hamburgers they give you a free cassette of the music and then the people who make the music get money from McDonalds, or something like that."
"This is not the Ohio I dreamed of. This is a nightmare."
"I have to make the french fries. The manager is coming."
He left and I stood there a moment wondering if this was how an American girl standing behind the counter at McDonalds in Ohio would feel. Were we interchangeable? I wanted to find a pen pal in Ohio and ask her questions about fathers. Were they all so ridiculous? I caught my breath. It was trying to run away from me again. After I caught it, I thought some more about this American girl.