I like to write and read fiction so I was excited when I saw that James R. Gapinski’s short collection of stories, Messiah Tortoise, was fresh off the press, especially since that press was Red Bird Chapbooks (who will be making another appearance here in the weeks to come).
Even better is the fact that the stories are all linked: they all take place in the same zoo. However, the focus of each varies — from zoo workers to guests to the animals themselves. I love collections like this, as each piece has its own arc, voice, and vibe, but the book on the whole also tells the tale of a place.
Additional note: James is the editor of The Conium Review, which published my story “Helping the Detectives” in 2015. Not only is it a fabulous journal that publishes innovative short fiction, but it’s extremely supportive of its writers. Check it out.
Messiah Tortoise (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2018)
Feelings while reading: All over the place, but in a good way. The first story is quite heartbreaking (coming right after the dedication makes it even more so for me), yet other stories are quite fun and cheeky. I was also very impressed with the order of the stories: although it’s a short collection, some stories are quite intense and I like how they’re balanced with a couple pieces that break the form (by appearing as lists).
Favorite stories: Messiah Tortoise, There’s No Such Thing as Fruit Bats, Tire Swing (But really, I beg of you, it’s a short book — read it in its entirety in one sitting. You won’t regret it.)
Final Thought: This book is tight. It’s got fun alongside sadness — everything is there in the right place for the right reason. Each story’s theme is meaningful, and by the end, you’ll be reflecting for a while on the lives within this zoo.