A Review of Jesse Minkertís Shortness of Breath & Other Symptoms

by Belle Randall

 

Fourteen short shorts and one poem in a sequence that unwraps the thick skin of our defenses to the jelly at the core.Here are stories to match the abbreviated attention spans of twenty first century readers with a brevity of their own. Small the way a fist is, each packs a novella in one or two pages. Very funny and utterly mirthless, the opposite of the romantic vision where the hero's mood ismirrored in nature, in each of these stories a non hero is thwarted by nature, usually his own-- a woman inadvertently announces her daughter-in-law's transgressions on the city bus; a street musician--her art mixed with con-- trades down, from classic guitar to dobro to calliope; a middle-aged husband, resigned to his wife leaving him for another man, obligingly waits for her to go. These are lives plagued by a certain meanness. Winesburg Ohio is the book to which such ambitious shorts inevitably will be compared, but Shortness of Breath lacks the dreamy surrealism of its forerunner, giving us instead--even in the aberrant story that might be classified as "science fiction"--a dogged, down-at-the-heels realism reminiscent of Maupassant, snapshots in an unflattering light sharp enough to puncture all aspirations, except perhaps those of the musician whose days must be numbered by terminal illness before he recognizes their worth.