, March 27, 2013
The first Alex M. Pruteanu story I ever read was “The Sun Eaters.” It had been published elsewhere, but my first encounter with it happened at the social networking/writing website, Fictionaut. In reading all 700-some-odd words of it, I could feel my brain folding and unfolding, rearranging itself with every word, as it was all new to me, all the more devastating. I knew from word one that I was reading the real shit, the good stuff. In my world, “the real shit” is defined as writing that possesses such a profundity, such inherent poetry and the unshakable sense of truth that the person reading it feels not the strain the writer endured to write it, not the struggle of the words to find their right places, but the story’s vibrations through all of time, the endless forthcoming relevance of the words.
Pruteanu, a Romanian emigrant, has been generous enough to share several of his stories on Fictionaut, and I have read many of them. He is widely published elsewhere, in print, on some of the biggest literary websites as well as the farthest reaches of the internet. But when I learned he would be publishing upwards of 80 stories in a collection, I knew exactly where approximately fifteen dollars of my hard-earned money would be going in the near future. Widely published as he is, it can be hard to keep up, plus, he’s modest in his author bios, opting not to supply a long laundry list of places where his work has appeared. Prior to his collection being released, I’d maybe read 20 of his stories and poems. But a collection, when done right, brings new life to the words. (Also, paper is still superior to glowing screens.) Lo, the day came where I could purchase his book, and after a SNAFU with the USPS (“Wankers,” Pruteanu would call them), I had the book.
Physically, GEARS is a small brick: 372 pages, 1.4 pounds. You could put it through a plateglass window, with a strong windup. The cover is glossy, grey, beautiful. The design is simple, elegant, and homemade (Pruteanu’s wife, Teresa, based the design on a DaVinci sketch). In other words, it feels like a book.
Emotionally, however, GEARS is a ten-ton truck exploding down a slick, steep highway with no brakes. One story after the next leaves you battered like roadkill. The exact kind of roadkill you want to be: profoundly affected roadkill. Roadkill that may heal, but will never be the same. He tells tales, some autobiographical, of the oppressive communist regime of Romania that, from mid- to late-20th century, killed, tortured and intimidated millions of people. Any great number of Romanian intellectuals, artists, writers vanished from the face of the earth. Homes were bugged; family members pitted against each other by the state. Extreme, unfathomable poverty befell the nation. Al-jazeera even made a documentary about the Romanian secret police, The Securitate. In these stories Pruteanu, in both a timely and timeless manner, provides intimate, often terrifying gazes into what it was like to live in that world, in that time. It is not easy reading, in fact, at times, it’s downright excruciating, the pain you feel for Romanians of this era, for humanity to have this on its conscience.
Though, as the collection progresses, you begin to see through the eyes of characters who escaped these atrocities, in the outside world: Europe, Canada, driving through the United States, perpetual disenchantment notwithstanding their histories. By the end, the trek from Romania to the southern United States lives in your bones. It’s you, now. (P.S., Not sure when I switched to second person, but all right.)
The thing about GEARS that I can’t get over is how perfectly-arranged the stories (yes, some are poems, but even the poems tell stories) are. Each leads into the next seamlessly, and interruptions in tone or style are done so elegantly that the shock of the transition is absorbed in its own greatness. The importance of these stories are self-evident, and the arrangement of them only further confirms that the machine is churning on all cylinders. I trust the author to guide me from one to the next world he’s created. And what wonderfully, albeit frighteningly, well-drawn worlds they are.