“A Fable with Slips of White Paper Spilling from the Pockets” by Kevin Brockmeier

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by Devin Costa

First sentence: “Once there was a man who happened to buy God’s overcoat.”

Significant detail: “He was rummaging through a thrift store when he found it hanging on a rack by the fire exit, nestled between a birch-colored fisherman’s sweater and a cotton blazer with a suede patch on one of the elbows.”

A man buys a coat with slips of paper bursting from the pockets. It’s God’s coat, and the slips of paper are individual prayers—some terribly sad, some not entirely comprehensible, some all too comprehensible. What can a mere man do with humanity’s prayers, with God’s job?

the_view_from_the_seventh_layer.largeThinking it through: How can a story that starts with that sentence not be freaking awesome? It’s incredibly imaginative and poignant. It’s subtle and sincere. It’s all of my favorite things. To top it off – Brockmeier creates an impossible situation that, in the world of this story, seems so plausible. I’m convinced of this reality, of a world in which a coat does have prayers materialize in it. And it’s thanks to Brockmeier’s matter-of-fact, sparse writing style. And a deft handling of magic realism. It’s really good magical realism. He creates emotional heft and drama without being dramatic. The delicate nature of these private prayers coming to the surface of the everyday life reminds me that everyone has inner struggles, insecurities, wishes for themselves and others and that it can so easily go unnoticed, can disappear into quiet places of isolated longing or sadness. It’s a plea for compassion in a world that moves on from suffering quickly, that kicks it aside, or buries it away. And I’m on board with that sentiment, Brockmeier. You dazzle me with your creativity in choosing God’s coat to get this across. I’ve often labored under the impression that writers write without completely knowing the implication of the details they choose, that everything sort of magically connects and oh, what a happy coincidence it is! But I’ve since come to find that no detail is superfluous in a fully finished story. Nothing is extraneous, everything is handpicked and the writer is not at all ignorant to the implications. Writing is a careful craft, and while the whole God’s coat thing may unleash a world of symbols, delightful metaphors and ironies, Brockmeier sifts through these possibilities and I admire his focus in doing so. I mean, you start with God’s coat, the possibilities really are endless.

From the collection, The View from the Seventh Layer, published 2008.

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