Wending my way through the stories in Anthony Tognazzini’s debut collection, I felt as if I were in an old cartoon, where zippers in thin air open compact universes, each with its own atmosphere. My vision blurred as I deciphered the real and the surreal. Or maybe I’d just been reading too much Tognazzini.
Surprising and engaging, these 57 stories hover between poetry and prose, in the lineage of Russell Edson and Dan Rhodes. They are not connected, yet the book is a page-turner: as soon as one piece is digested, the untapped promise of the next peculiar, provocative tale tempts the reader. In “The Reason We Were So Afraid,” a baby’s caretakers are suddenly overwhelmed when their charge begins to speak and soon intellectually dwarfs them. In “Accident by Escalator,” a man gets caught in the teeth of a grate during his daily commute, rendering him one-dimensional: “At night, in bed, I could barely touch my girlfriend. I slept pressed against the wall, curled into my edges.”
Tognazzini deconstructs universal moments with language, revealing underlying beauty and bliss. In “Westminster March,” for instance, he describes the breathless joys and pitfalls of childhood with unwieldy run-on sentences, as a young boy gets a first taste of victory over his rival: “He blows by me hoping, I assume, that I’ll feel threatened but I don’t because Lisa looks over at me, eyes brimming with tenderness and admiration and I feel strong in love, knowing one day we’ll be married … and I’ll get constantly to kiss her mouth which is soft as ice cream and sweeter.”
There is vivid, decadent metaphor and detail to be found in this book, stockpiled all around as one zipper is closed and another opened. Tognazzini remains the wily rabbit, always a few steps ahead.
I Carry a Hammer in My Pocket for Occasions Such as These will be published by Boa Editions, Ltd., in April.