A Pornography of Grief – Philip Huang (Signal 8 Press)

Pre-order this title at Amazon.com

As I said by way of introduction to another book recently,
it’s all about the title for me. A good one has me instantly hooked, and Philip
Huang’s A Pornography of Grief is wonderful. Regardless of what it
actually means, it makes me think of a collective noun—you know, like a murder
of crows—which is perfect for this stunning collection of short stories.

Being the survivor, the one left behind, is not an easy
role. Your entire way of life dies with your loved one, and you mourn for both.
Your grief is not only for the dead, but for yourself as well. Huang pictures
this brilliantly. All of these stories feature disconnected survivors
desperately searching in the unknown dark for a solid piece of something on
which they can rebuild.

If you’re looking for linear storytelling, however, there’s
little of that here. Most of the pieces are impressionistic, with short smears
of just enough context for you to understand how these individuals are
mourning. But far from being bothersome, this is actually a relief. The pool of
grief is deep, and it’s dangerous to drink too much. The sips Huang holds to
our lips are more than enough.

Take, for example, the opener “Pineola Inn,” or the chilling
dead baby story “Okra,” or the intense relationship between a man’s mother and
his lover in “The Widow Season.” If we were to get more than glimpses of the
heartbreaking sadness of these stories, it would be far too much to bear. We
would need to distance ourselves, like the female protagonist in “American
Widow,” who writes her sorrow and continually regrets it.

But all is not sadness in Huang’s world. The hilarious
“Colin Farrell’s Penis” and the oddly haunting “The Chair” about a strange
museum piece and a race of mutant boys who have tongues in their anuses provide
oases of relief as do the disconnected TV viewers in “House Party.”

Really, though, anywhere you choose to dip into A
Pornography of Grief
, you will find something thought-provoking and
worthwhile. Huang’s prose is close to poetry and I’ve read very few writers who
can create three-dimensional characters with soft, subtle brush strokes and the
telling detail. This is truly iceberg writing, nine-tenths of it being below
the surface.

This is the initial offering from Marshall Moore’s new
publishing venture, Signal 8 Press, and he’s found a winner in Philip Huang.
Let’s hope this is the beginning of a long and happy collaboration. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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