Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha is far from Ed Falco’s first book, in fact it’s his third collection of short stories alone, to go along with a poetry chapbook, two standard novels, a hypertext novel, a collection of short fictions, and other assorted individually published works. So how does it fit in with his other work? If you've decided to check out his work based on anything that’s been written or podcasted here this week, does the rest of his work fit the descriptions you’ve seen?
At least so far as the standard fiction goes, it very nicely fits what you’ve seen this past week. Especially the short fiction, as Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha is a collection of New and Selected Stories, and the selections come from his past two collections – Plato at Scratch Daniel’s (University of Arkansas Press, 1990), and Acid (Notre Dame University Press, 1996).
Not that I’d go so far as to say that Falco has a specific formula, but many of his stories do approach similar themes and do so in similar ways. Maybe I actually am just trying to convince myself that his short fiction doesn’t follow a formula, but if I do allow myself to agree with any who would state such, I may come away from such an agreement with even more appreciation for his work. To be able to follow a formula over a dozen times within a single collection and have each work hold up both on its own, and within the collection is pretty damn impressive.
While there is frequently violence, or at a minimum disturbances, in Falco’s short fiction, it is rare that the violence is the focus of the story. The violence is not even always the impetus that moves his main character forward, instead it is frequently an underlying violence, or tucked away behind the actions of the main characters. It’s almost as if Falco is writing his stories while his local news report is on behind him, sneaking its way into his work.
The stories also often have at their core, a protagonist who is forced to re-examine their viewpoint on either their own life, or the world in general, after some action occurs. More often than not the protagonist is a male, and frequently a father. It becomes apparent reading Falco’s work that there are certain things that are important to him that he is either trying to determine for himself, or just very willing to share his views on with his readers. These include that line that takes us from civilized to not – be it through sex, or passion, or some other emotion. Many times it is the crossing of this line, or contemplating doing so, that is the action that propels the story forward.
Both of Falco’s standard novels to me, can be seen in the same vein as his short fiction (though I must admit, my views of Winter in Florida are from description of it only, I’ve not had the opportunity to read it yet). The biggest difference between WolfPoint and the stories in the three collections I’ve read is the fact that there are more characters that are explored in depth, and the plot goes beyond a single event moving things forward. WolfPoint was very reminiscent of the short stories Falco has written – the protagonist is a middle aged male, who has already been forced to examine his life based on an incident from his past, and has allowed a depression to set in. He then allows this depression to be strong enough to allow him to put himself in dangerous situations, and when presented with opportunities to alleviate the danger, he does not do so. Through these situations and interactions with the two other characters that Falco explores more deeply than he would in a short story, another full re-examination of his life is undertaken.
The other aspect that Falco seems consistent on between his short fiction and standard published novels is that lack of experimentation in his writing. Where he is well known in the field of hypertext, an area where nearly everything is experimentation by definition, his short stories don’t venture into the territories mined by Coover or D. Barthelme. He instead starts his stories with an opening line or paragraph that completely sets up the story (in fact, a quick re-read of an opening paragraph or two after completing the stories shows just how well Falco is at this), and proceeds writing through in a very straightforward manner, allowing the characters and plot to intertwine until what is almost always a very solid and satisfying ending occurs. WolfPoint is very similar in nature to the stories in this aspect as well.
What is interesting when reading Falco’s hypertext (what is available online that is) and his collection of short fictions, In the Park of Culture, is that while he concentrates much more on the individual line – almost as if writing poetry – than on the straightforward nature of a plot, the aspect of passion is still strongly present. Specifically, reading the collection of short fictions, it was interesting to see how much passion Falco brought to the pieces, frequently without the inclusion of a protagonist. The works are often more like pastiches, ruminations on pieces of art or places, but there’s still a look at that line of where we move from humanity to something more animalistic – though in most of these pieces, that look is staying further from line, looking more at what it is that the humanity aspect is capable of when focusing our passion on art.
Looking back, and even re-reading a great deal of his work, I don’t think you will go wrong picking up any of Ed Falco’s work if what you’ve read or listened to hear this past week has perked your interest level.