Infinite Ending: Ten Stories by Frank Marcopolos is the resulting book of a challenge to write a story a month over ten months. The ten stories follow two hikers on a long journey, a college baseball player assessing his prospects, erotica writers ruminating about the publishing business, a wounded soldier, and other tales where characters assess their present and future condition. By his own declaration in the foreword, these are “postmodern literary fiction,” not stories with high-concept premises or tidy endings.
These are rich quick-paced stories where not a lot happens, but still manages to be page-turning because of Marcopolos’ clean, spirited prose. Complex, even profound, stories leave the reader with more questions than answers, which is part of the book’s appeal. Every reader will get something different from this collection.
The book also includes two essays about postmodernism: one giving a basic overview of the literary movement and the second about how postmodernism can be used to explore libertarian themes. He apologizes in the foreword that including these two essays is pretentious. I wouldn’t put it in that category. One of the freedoms of self-publishing is writers being able to buck convention and publish whatever they please. So on the merits of the essays alone, Marcopolos is certainly justified for including these two overviews. As such, the essays need a critique of their own.
The first essay is a much more effective overview than the second. The thesis of the libertarian piece is that postmodernism and libertarianism are natural allies. This may be true, but a similar case could be made that postmodern writing is well-suited for science fiction, horror, or any other genre. One of the tenets of postmodernism is genre pastiche, so really this could apply to any genre or subject. It doesn’t necessarily seem uniquely well-suited to libertarian ideas more than any other political leaning or philosophy. That said, the fact that the reader is left debating the merits of postmodernism in a book of short stories is one of the collection’s selling points. More writers should play with convention like this.
However, the essays themselves might be the most postmodern thing about the entire collection. If Marcopolos hadn’t advertised that these were postmodern stories, a reader might not necessarily classify these stories as postmodernist, but rather literary short fiction. For example, in the story “Load-Out,” a baseball pitcher pontificates about his future as a ballplayer when his girlfriend gets pregnant. There’s no meta-narrative here. The story follows the narrator’s realistic thoughts about his life. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad story: far from it, the story is evocative and moving. It doesn’t, however, seem to be experimenting too much with form.
Additionally, Marcopolos writes in his foreword that the collection was generally thrown together in a short timeframe, “Deadlines do seem to work miracles for productivity, but they do not guarantee quality.” In a way, he’s apologizing for the prose and defining its literary construction before the reader even gets started. The reader is left to read the book through his pre-defined lens, rather than come to the book through his or her own unique interpretation. Boxing in the reader like this, ironically, seems less than postmodernist, which is supposed to be more abstract and open to interpretation.
So while it’s interesting that he includes the essay and the foreword, the foreword might have been best served by being an afterword. Rather than influencing the reader so directly, and telling the audience how the book should be read, it would help a reader re-assess what has already been interpreted. A reader may even read through the stories a second time.
All this said, Marcopolos is an eloquent and provocative writer. These are strong stories that work very well on their own merits. They just didn’t need the Cliffs Notes to be fully understood or enjoyed.