What I Learned in Florida
Litzine, Cary Fagan, 32 pgs., espresso-chapbooks.com, $15
Fiction and children’s author Cary Fagan collects nine precious pieces of youth memoir in What I Learned in Florida. Fagan’s short stories employ writing that is warm and concise, but without giving short shrift to his young self’s feelings and epiphanies.
Painting a picture of himself as sensitive and deep-feeling as a child, Fagan writes of his close-knit extended family, some of whom survived the Holocaust, and the palpable absences of others who didn’t. He writes of sick days home with his mother, attempts at out-of-body experiences as informed by a pulp paperback, and – in the striking story that gives the collection its title – a chance encounter with a dead body and the sudden realization of mortality. Throughout all of these stories, each just two to four pages, Fagan’s childhood self comes across as precociously somber and empathetic. But for all the weight of the subject matter or the coming-of-age conclusions that Fagan sketches, the writing is not overly wrought. Rather, Fagan is a tender narrator of reminiscence who makes it easy to remember and wonder with him.
Like other items available from Espresso Chapbooks, What I Learned in Florida is hand-sewn and bound with french flaps, with this item in a black cover. The writing, however, is the real draw. Recommended. (Joshua Barton)