Book Review: The House of Grana Padano

When fiction, a naturally expansive genre, meets the micro form, constraint becomes the order of the day. The collaboration between two authors of microfiction might be compared to two poets writing a sonnet together. But in The House of Grana Padano, the collaboration between Meg Pokrass and Jeff Friedman blends rhythms and styles seamlessly. These two masters of the microfiction form generate a dialectic that plays within the rigorous requirements of their chosen genre.

Meg Pokrass creates marvelously original characters and sketches their struggles with sympathetic rigor. Her eight books in the micro-medium (plus one collection of prose poetry) create a magical realism that satisfies emotionally. Jeff Friedman is the author of eight volumes of prizewinning poetry and translations and one previous collection of flash fiction. His tragicomic parables convey and critique psychological, political, and existential questions. Together, they’ve created a collection of seismographic sensitivity at the intersection of humor and pathos, parable and adage.

A confident expansiveness threads The House of Grana Padano’s seven sections. Some are linked thematically or by common characters and scenarios; some are linked by absencethe absence of a midriff, a father, a lover, tenderness. Readers may recognize tropes from Friedman’s solo work: people transformed into animals, animals wearing masks, failed salesmen and their exasperated families among the magicians, circus performers, and disappointed lovers. Throughout, the collection’s sharp, contemporary tone repurposes surreal poignancies.

Many passages echo the profundity of such masters of the short form as Russell Edson and Etgar Keret. Take, for example, this sentence from “Memories of Motown”: “My sister cried until my mom held her, swaying together in the living room, slow dancing to ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ as my father folded me so far into himself that for the rest of my childhood, I disappeared” (51).

Or these lines from “Some Girls Swallow the Concept of Hell,” which describes the sexual obsession of Pearl the sword swallower and her lover, Large Eddie: “She lays the sword flat against the back of her throat and plunges. We hold in our guts. Pearl stares up at the lights as if she’s digesting her Eddie. She holds him down inside her body so long it’s as if we can all finally breathe” (44). These moments conjure the surreality of our own seemingly banal lives.

Another brilliant antecedent, Kafka’s “Hunger Artist,” is referenced in “The Weak Man in the Circus.” This poor guy, who can only make love by blowing exhausted kisses at his girlfriend, gestures toward the difficulties of the writer’s life: “I lift a piece of paper. As it rises almost to my chest, I give out, and the paper floats toward the crowd. They cheer wildly and throw bills and coins in my direction” (31).

The linked fictions in the eponymous “Grana Padano” section asks: what happens when a man’s first wife moves to the town where he lives with his second wife? What happens, more specifically, when the town is called Wedgewood and the first wife moves into a house made of cheese? (One imagines it is wedge-shaped.) This fragrant (she smells of “Hawaiian flowers”) woman drives a wedge (ha!) between her ex-husband and his insecure second wife, both of whom surreptitiously nibble on her savory house. It’s a hysterical conceptin both meanings of the wordas are the threesome’s farfetched actions. But the results are entertainingly believable. Let me be the first to agitate for the further adventures of this man with cheese in his beard and the two women locked in a push and pull of attraction and repulsion.

We may not always understand these pieces rationally, but the best of them fit with a satisfying click into something deeper than reason, something deep in our hearts. Perhaps this is the appeal of flash fiction. Reading a collection of micros can feel like snacking on chipswhen do we get some nutrition?but when done well, these brief fictions have the death-defying concision of a highwire act. Readers will recognize the out-of-kilter logic that informs The House of Grana Padano from yesterday’s news cycle. The difference is, Pokrass and Friedman’s fabulist scenarios create a sense of the possibilities of the imagination.

The House of Grana Padano, by Meg Pokrass and Jeff Friedman (Claremont, CA: Pelekinesis, 2022) $18

Jeff Friedman is the author of collections of poems, prose poems, and micros, including The MarksmanFloating Tales, and Pretenders. He has received numerous awards, including a National Endowment Literature Translation Fellowship in 2016 and two individual artist grants from New Hampshire Arts Council.
Meg Pokrass is the award-winning author of eight flash fiction collections and two flash novellas, including Spinning to Mars and The Loss Detector. Her work has appeared in over 900 literary journals and has been anthologized in three Norton anthologies: Flash Fiction International, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, and Flash Fiction America.
Celia Bland’s third collection of poetry, Cherokee Road Kill, with pen and ink drawings by Kyoko Miyabe, was published in 2018.  She is the author of many young adult books and co-editor of Jane Cooper: A Radiance of Attention.

One Response to “Book Review: The House of Grana Padano”

  1. Vicki Sharp says:

    Fabulous award-winning authors!

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