7 Tales and 7 Stories by W.P. Osborn, published by Unboxed Books
Reviewed by Suzanne Herman
W.P. Osborn's debut story collection, 7 Tales and 7 Stories, also serves as the debut of Unboxed Books Press. The book is the winner of the 2013 Unboxed Books Prize in Fiction. Francine Prose, who selected the winner, attributed her choice to the collection's "weird obsessiveness and bizarre poetry."
As the title suggests, the book juxtaposes what one would call tall tales with more traditional storytelling. However, the split does not seem to be quite seven and seven. Instead, the effect is of an entire collection that plays with the line between fantasy and reality. The pieces that at first seem otherworldly are imbued with a sense of practicality; the stories more rooted in the real, with the unpredictable. We are presented with exotic cultures and suburban life, equally informed about the inner workings of a man's mind and that of a hippopotamus. In the end, we are told not seven tales and seven stories but instead shown fourteen instances of how these two categories can, as in life, overlap.
In the opening story we can see a prime example of the "weird obessiveness" Prose cites. Here, the Kapital Zoo has just acquited a new addition: "Our new acquisition wandered the capacious semicircularity of his new home, from the boulders at the rear to the trench at the front, pawing the outcrops of rock and vegetation, drinking, eating, snuffling the ground. At certain smells he retracted his mouth, lending his face the convivial expression so often seen in celebrity magazines. Visitors could at the same time they were watching him watch also the grays, giving them the illusion of depth, of abundance, almost as if they were out in the veldt. He too observed the grays."
What is the artistic intent of such prose? For me the goal seems to be to endow readers, if only for a few minutes, with the same mania with which Osborn presumably wrote. The reader is both enraptured and exhausted as the details and word choices rebound between the commonplace and the extraordinary.
Filled with marriages, affairs, a surprising number of zoo animals, a story structured along the lines of a speech delivered by Mao Zedong in 1942, and much more, 7 Tales and 7 Stories is yet another example of the bravery and imagination of a small press.
W.P. Osborn's 7 Tales and 7 Stories was the winner of the 2013 Unboxed Books Prize in Fiction and his debut collection. His fiction has appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Texas Review, Hotel Amerika, Mississippi Review, Gettysburg Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, and more. Osborn has lived in California, Ohio, New York, and Germany, but currently chairs the Department of English at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.
Unboxed Books is a new publisher valuing fiction and nonfiction from authors new and known. They publish opportunistically, whenever they find work that matters, in both print and digital formats.
Suzanne Herman is an undergraduate student at Barnard College. She is the editoral intern for The Literarian.