Cate Baum, editor of SPR reviews SPR Awards Shorts winner Searching For Paradise by Gerard Marconi.
It is rare that a male American writer writes about his feelings and experiences in relation to others, especially women. Offerings over the years have been rather narcissistic perspectives in the form of Kerouac, Thompson and Bukowski, with females no better off than a hatstand. We never really learn how the male protagonist feels about the women in their stories, past the sexual attractiveness or hysteria of each one, and god forbid we learn his weaknesses.
Enter Gerard Marconi, author of Searching For Paradise and Other Stories. Maybe it’s something in the water in Baltimore, Fitzgerald country – one of the few male writers in my opinion who seems to express his entire inner world with some intuition – that has given Marconi something of a wide open and deep-seated approach to writing about his feelings.
Rooted in the classics, archaeological artifacts and paintings, Marconi’s characters, all searching for Paradise of some kind, muse on their everyday lives from within a poetic and graceful inner sanctum. A middle-aged man, witnessing his brother-in-law chasing skirt and failing in his marriage, discovers his portly wife as a Venus. Another with a fear of flying thinks of Greek tragedy, paintings in the Prado and his own view of death as he travels on an airplane plunging through an air pocket. A gay couple invite a young born-again Christian into their house just in time for The Rapture to begin, locked in biblical banter that may just convert the boy to their way of thinking. Andy Warhol is admitted to hospital without his wig and remembers his craving for root beer. Samuel Beckett ends up in Hell, despite his lack of belief in the afterlife. A widower and his daughter try to find connection as the only remaining family members, and find none, while a gallery security guard wonders what stealing a painting would be like.
There’s something very un-American about Marconi’s style. Some stories have a style of Houellebecq, some go into Nabokov territory. There’s a touch of Eco. There’s a sense of voyeurism – not just in the first-person narrative, but in the way that characters assess themselves against the mythical gods and legends they talk about. Often there is no conclusion, and this search for Paradise, or peace of mind, continues.
When Marconi entered this book for the SPR Awards it crept up on the judges slowly. Stories haunt and grow, much like the prose itself. The book is written in many forms: some short plays, some letters or diary type entries and some narratives. This only adds to the interest of the reader. We felt the book was so unusual in its premise in that while the tales are simple in construction, the wonderfully rich academic background Marconi obviously possesses not only weaves each piece with a sense of romance and purpose but gives the reader a great set of lessons in the classics and art history.
This book should be picked up by anyone looking for a more interesting read for traveling – holidays to Europe especially – or anyone who really enjoys the formula of the short story. It’s a difficult genre to succeed in, and here Marconi has got it spot on and even found a new way of doing it right.
You can buy Marconi’s book in our store from Amazon, or from our bookshelf from all major online retailers.