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Equal parts speculative and satirical, the stories in Why Visit America form an exegesis of our current political predicament, while offering an eloquent plea for connection and hope.
The citizens of Plainfield, Texas, have had it with the broke-down United States. So they vote to secede, rename themselves America in memory of their former country, and happily set themselves up to receive tourists from their closest neighbor: America. Couldn’t happen? Well, it might, and so it goes in the thirteen stories in Matthew Baker’s brilliantly illuminating, incisive, and heartbreaking collection Why Visit America.
The book opens with a seemingly traditional story in which the speculative element is extremely minimal—the narrator has a job that doesn’t actually exist—a story that wouldn’t seem much out of place in a collection of literary realism. From there the stories get progressively stranger: a young man breaks the news to his family that he is going to transition—from an analog body to a digital existence. A young woman abducts a child—her own—from a government-run childcare facility. A man returns home after committing a great crime, his sentence being that his memory—his entire life—is wiped clean.
As the book moves from universe to universe, the stories cross between different American genres: from bildungsroman to rom com, western to dystopian, including fantasy, horror, erotica, and a noir detective mystery. Read together, these parallel-universe stories create a composite portrait of the true nature of the United States and a Through the Looking-Glass reflection of who we are as a country.
Nicholas is a math and music genius with no friends and a huge problem: His father has lost his job, and they'll have to sell their house, which holds the only memory Nicholas has of his younger brother. Just in time, Nicholas's senile grandfather arrives, filled with tales of priceless treasure he has hidden somewhere in town--but where?
Hybrid Creatures, Matthew Baker’s sharp and innovative collection, follows four very different protagonists as they search for, and struggle with, connection: an amateur hacker attempts to track down his vanished mentor; a math prodigy, the child of divorced parents, struggles with being torn between his two families; a composer takes a spontaneous trip to Nashville while mourning his husband’s death and gets trapped on a hotel rooftop with a hipster; and a wayward philosopher accepts a job working for an industrial farming corporation. Through-out, Baker explores the inner dialogue of failed, floundering, and successful bonds between strangers, among family and friends, and even within a person.
Pairing the emotional pursuit of connection with multiple forms of communication, Baker weaves the languages of HTML, mathematics, mu-sical notations, and propositional logic into his storytelling in order to unveil nuances of experiences and emotions. This poignant formal invention articulates loneliness, grief, doubt, and comfort in ways that are inaccessible through traditional language alone.
In both form and content, Baker captures the complexities of breaking and forming connections with other people, and the various lan-guages we use to navigate this inescapable human need—resulting in a moving exploration of interpersonal bonds.
About the Author: Matthew Baker’s stories have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, One Story, American Short Fiction, Conjunctions, and Best of the Net, among others, and he has a children’s novel called If You Find This out this March from Little, Brown. He was born and lives in Michigan. Visit him online at: www.mwektaehtabr.com.
About the Guest Editor: Founded in 1986, Hayden’s Ferry Review is the semi-annual international literary journal edited by the Creative Writing program at Arizona State University. Each issue features visual art, poetry, prose, and translations from some of the world’s preeminent writers and translators. The writers and artists who have found a home in Hayden’s Ferry Review include George Saunders, Haruki Murakami, Rita Dove, Joseph Heller, Peggy Shumaker, Raymond Carver, Norman Dubie, John Updike, TC Boyle, Gloria Naylor, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ken Kesey, Tess Gallagher, Pam Houston, Lydia Davis, Benjamin Percy, Matt Bell, and Anne Valente. Visit us at www.haydensferryreview.com or follow us @haydensferryrev.
About the Publisher: Electric Literature is an independent publisher amplifying the power of storytelling through digital innovation. Electric Literature’s weekly fiction magazine, Recommended Reading, invites established authors, indie presses, and literary magazines to recommended great fiction. Once a month we feature our own recommendation of original, previously unpublished fiction.