A Tendency to Distort the Real: Allyson Hicks Heyen on Alta Ifland’s Elegy for a Fabulous World

Elegy for a Fabulous World, Alta Ifland, Ninebark Press

“Elegy for a Fabulous World” by Alta Ifland both begins and ends on a high note with some distinct highs and lows in between. This eclectic collection of short stories has something to offer for every reader. Sometimes serious, sometimes silly, and often all within the same page, Ifland lets the reader experience a full range of emotions throughout. In reading “Fedea the Gravedigger”, I felt deep embarrassment, joy, sadness, and guilt. I wanted to embrace Fedea, while at the same time wanting to turn away from him. Just as the narrator has mixed emotions about Fedea, those emotions translate easily to the reader, creating a relaxed, almost recognizable, relationship between story, characters, and reader.

As a reader, I was delighted by the familiarity of Ifland’s stories. In the story “Elegy for a Fabulous World”, I felt as if I was at the beach sitting on the white sheet next to Aunt Irma and Uncle Pista. I could feel the “almost palpable heat melting the asphalt in places” and picture the “daytime with soaking-blue sky”. I truly felt like I could be a part of this story and share a seat at the family dinner table. The fact that Ifland’s beach scene took place so far from the beach scenes of my own life, yet was thoroughly relatable, speaks to the ease and skill of her writing. But just as the reader becomes comfortable in Ifland’s world, she throws a literary curveball.

“The Random Bus” was one of those times. The story started out with promise; I wanted to believe in this exciting, mysterious transport. I loved how riding the bus “triggers in its temporary inhabitants a desire for closeness” and how the rattling doors “is a constant reminder of the darkness outside trying to creep in and surround them”. As if the safe haven of the bus is not truly even safe, just as is real life for most of us. But the story left me feeling depressed and empty in the end. I wanted more from its pages; I wanted to know more of the secrets of the bus, wanted to experience more of its magic. The end came all too abruptly.

Throughout the collection, Ifland’s stories are punctuated with witty and unexpected descriptions. From the picture of Sandra as the “the girl who carries furniture” in “Elegy”, to the description of the building’s “cream façade in the melting sunlight/melting façade in the cream sunlight/melting sun in the cream light of the building’s fading lines” in “Sawdust Powder”, Ifland keeps the reader entertained with such colorful pictures. When I read in “Harry and the Tree in his Lung” how “man can only invent, never create. And what he invents sticks like Adam’s apple in his throat, and he chokes on his invention”, I had to laugh out loud at the truth and irony of that statement. Although “Harry” was a somewhat silly story, there was a reality to it as well.

Although many number only a few pages, Ifland’s stories delight and intrigue throughout. Just like the narrator in “A Week in Our Town”, Ifland has a “dangerous tendency to distort the real”, and that tendency is repeated over and over again, each time swinging the reader from reality to fantasy and back once again.

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