Welcome to Issue 7 of Sinking City—today, in the first days
of December, the humidity has finally lifted its stronghold from the air in Miami.
As cool rain breaks from the bleak sky in sideways sheets & floods the
potholes on my street, I am reminded of our hurricane season past & all of
those living real-time in sinking cities across the globe.
This year, Miami was lucky to escape the hurricane roulette unscathed, but has continued to hold space for climate refugees from the Bahamas, the Windward Islands, and more. For those of us in South Florida and other regions impacted by Rising Waters, these experiences serve as a bleak reminder of the real-time gamble of our environment: of how climate change has, and will continue, to put our lives and homes at risk indiscriminately.
But, even as water swarms in the sky above me, I know that, as Antiquity suggests, the slow burn of our collective existence is what tethers us to one another. Sometimes, we may forget that the concept of the communal is our best tool in combating what seems inevitable.
In Sinking City’s seventh issue, 17 writers, poets, and artists tackle what it means to be a part of this race. They question the notion that We’re Fine—that there’s nothing left worth questioning. As I write this letter, the clouds above me are fracturing to make the sun’s light vulnerable to all of us flitting below, and I am grateful to all of our contributors for being a force in that fracture.
On behalf of the MFA program at the University of Miami, I write
to welcome you into this space: the one between endlessness and ourselves. I
hope that the pieces included in this issue can guide you—to splinter, to
rupture, to shatter—something in the landscape of us.
Sabrina & Corina: A Review of Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s Fiction Debut
by Soek Fambul
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut short story collection Sabrina & Corina willhaunt you. Firmly rooted in memories of home, Sabrina & Corina centers the lives of indigenous Latina women and girls residing in the ever-changing city of Denver. The soul of Denver, in all its gentrifying permutations, is personified throughout the collection, thematically linking the majority of the eleven stories. In Sabrina & Corina, readers feel a resistance against the erasure of the Denver many of Fajardo-Anstine’s characters call home—a city deeply tied to the collection’s momentum.
In the story “Galapago,” the narrator reminds us that the neighborhood character Pearla has resided in for over sixty years has been renamed the Northside by “newcomers…[as] they’d changed the neighborhood names to fit their needs, to sound less dangerous, maybe less territorial” (109). Here is the ghosting presence that unifies Sabrina & Corina, a collection that refuses to forfeit its rightful claim to home and protecting one’s own story.
Can home be an unwelcoming place? No easy answers can be found in Fajardo-Anstine’s work, yet as each short story progresses, these delicate and complicated truths appear in unstable relationships, lost loved ones, and self-denial. Narrowing in on discomfort, the characters of Sabrina & Corrina must reflect deeply on their behaviors and the lives of those nearest to them. In a few short pages, we come away with understanding for Fajardo-Anstine’s characters and their actions, though we may not always agree with them. And, it is through this complicated feeling that we recognize the narrative power of their agency. This power suggests itself in the collection’s title: Sabrina & Corina.
Fajardo-Anstine’s world primarily concerns itself with the nuances of female relationships and seeks not to appease the reader with comfortable fictions. Fajardo-Anstine leans into life’s contradictions, heartbreaks, and the hard realities in her character’s lives. Though at times, her stories’ naturalistic tendencies give way to fatalism.
After surviving a violent attack, one character plainly asserts, “I’m not ashamed…No one sees me anyway…People pretend they don’t see a girl with a bruised face” (125). In Sabrina & Corina, we become the people forced to see. Sabrina & Corina strips away the delicate barrier between public and private, placing you into the lives of characters that will unsettle you. And, perhaps, that is the truth in Fajardo-Anstine’s short fiction: that what is most necessary is often what is most difficult. And that these truths, these stories, will follow you long after you finish reading them. Is that not the goal of fiction? Sabrina & Corina gives language to love’s absences—those who have left and will return to you—those who will never come back. These eleven stories flourish in those vulnerable spaces between loss and return. Fajardo-Anstine’s stories keep those haunting memories alive.
But What if the River is Made of Glass? A Review of Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror
by Zach Nickels
The landscape of contemporary serialized nonfiction collections is, to put it mildly, in a strange state of affairs. On the one hand, the proliferation of nonfiction—especially online, where digital media companies have exploded in influence—has turned the consumption of the essay into a fairly mundane experience. On the other hand, this expansion has not come without cost: serious, considerate writing has come under the thumb of capitalistic interests (as it so often does), with staff writers facing internal pressure for immediate gratification via click-throughs and mass feedback, with the process repeating itself ad infinitum.
This is the reality facing the modern essayist. And this is the environment that Jia Tolentino dives into, headfirst, with her discerning debut collection, Trick Mirror.
Averaging roughly 30 pages per piece, the essays contained in Trick Mirror each follow a familiar, successive structure: Tolentino begins by excavating a point of entry for the reader (e.g., the origins surrounding her own reality TV experience or a detailed exposition of female literary archetypes) and deepens her inquiry through an interweaving of facts, statistics and related personal experiences. This approach has the effect of fleshing out the initial inspection, broadening it to allow for a multitude of perspectives. Like an author of a fiction collection, Tolentino does her own world-making.
At their best—as in, the aforementioned “Reality TV Me”—Tolentino’s essays are precisely crafted; they give the reader the simplest, albeit most vital version of what an essay has to offer: the time to sit with an argument and just think. At their least realized—such as “Ecstasy” wherein Tolentino discusses Houston megachurches, hip hop and recreational drug use—the sections don’t quite stitch together properly. That piece, in particular, is the first time in Trick Mirror where woven threads begin to show.
Those threads are worth examining more closely, starting with the title: the O.E.D. does not contain an entry for the term ‘trick mirror’; nor does Merriam-Webster or Cambridge, or even an index as lexically-hip as the Urban Dictionary (a search of which provides only a shrugging emoticon—a result, no doubt, which brings Tolentino endless joy). If the reader is not careful, s/he may assume the title refers to a physically distortive mirror, like in a carnival funhouse. But this associative term is different than what Tolentino is aiming for. “Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives,” [inside jacket]. Rivers are a sort of mirror. So, too, is self-delusion a trick. And look: the collection’s subtitle is ‘reflections on self-delusion’. But the careful reader might still suspect a linguistic sleight of hand.
Much of Tolentino’s professional life has been crafted around essays; her debut demonstrates a deep care for them—what they are and what they can be. Etymologically, the ‘essay’ is rooted in the Baconian conception of an attempt or an experiment. Original usage posited it as an unfinished attempt, something to be inevitably fixed. Modern usage embraces the idea of a reflection, the writer is assaying (note the turn of phrase) some portion of the world via subject and providing commentary. It is not unfair to say that this accurately describes the ‘mirror’ portion of Trick Mirror: the river running through this collection carries all of us with it.
Whether it be the social evolution of the internet; cultures of sexual assault on college campuses; societal conceptions of the ‘ideal woman,’ societal conceptions of the ‘difficult woman,’ the decision to marry, et cetera, Tolentino exhibits a sharp understanding of our current cultural era and the events that led us here. The collection itself is rarely prescriptive—mirrors do not provide suggestions, nor do they hint—and, in fact, Tolentino occasionally appears unsure of whether she has gone too far in her analysis: “I benefit from it… I am complicit no matter what I do,” “maybe I’m extending sexism’s half-life now, too” and so on. The resulting image is that of an author who is not wholly convinced of where she—the essayist—starts and where the product eventually ends.
And so, the real question here involves the trick: what exactly is it, and what does the answer say about us? At first, it seems as though the subtitle’s invocation to self-delusion is aimed at Tolentino’s subjects: idealistic internet users, barre aficionados, corporate grifters, her sixteen-year-old self and more. But this verdict fails to account for the full breadth of the tricks being played. When you look closer at Tolentino’s work, you discover that she is simultaneously asserting the reader’s self-delusions while extending the space to reflect upon them. It seems evident that she is asking us to accept these delusions as our own; after all, she is, admittedly, as complicit as any one of us. Thus, we find the phrase ‘trick mirror’ to be linguistically reversed. The trick is not altering our reflection in the mirror: it is the mirror that is clearly reflecting the tricks we play on ourselves.
Delusions are not always a terrible thing, however. Sometimes they are necessary. Sometimes they lead us to greater achievements and realizations—our misplaced beliefs pulling us through otherwise uncharted waters. One might say the same about Trick Mirror. Not every essay in this collection is a beautiful experience. But the reader may find that Tolentino’s work can help them get to the other side.