‘The Misfits’ a collection of 15 short stories and a poem about disconnections - Albuquerque Journal

‘The Misfits’ a collection of 15 short stories and a poem about disconnections

“The Misfits” by Albuquerque’s Jimmy Santiago Baca is a collection of 15 short stories and a poem about disconnections. The disconnection from mainstream society, from family, from friends, from colleagues, from sanity and from truths.

And it expands the conventional meaning of “misfit.”

The first story, “Walk the Ice,” reveals the book’s narrator as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. After five years, he’s suffering from a disconnection with his hometown.

It’s the fictional town of Santa Luz, New Mexico. (Santa Luz is not unlike Santa Fe.)

The unnamed narrator desperately wants to go home to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones. He’s also driven by a desire to return to write the novel he’s long dreamed of – about his rocky relationship with his father.

His explanation of the decision to return detours onto a road of rambling remembrances of the narrator’s love for his wife and about his need to mentor ordinary people to write about themselves.

The narrator finds himself giving a writing workshop to steelworkers. Two of the steelworkers are misfits – Big Jack, a misogynistic “bulldozer of a white man,” and a woman named Janice.

Working in the same steel mill for 30 years, Janice had started out on the graveyard shift shoveling ash into wheelbarrows and dumping it in a slag pile.

Big Jack’s attitude makes a 180-degrees flip from physically attacking women, including Janice, to being a warm companion, thanks to her: “… Janice and Big Jack walked out of that (steel mill) pit holding hands, much to the shock of every worker in the plant. She’d never explained to them what went on or how she got him to change his mind …”

In the story “Predator,” the narrator contacts his old friend Sheryl, who is married with children. She’s in love with her husband Jason, despite knowing he’s a nonstop flirt, womanizer and adulterer. Jason is the misfit here. The story ends tragically.

In “Player,” the narrator gets in touch with another old friend, Helen, a lonely middle-aged woman. Helen has hired Logan, an ex-con in a halfway house, to do handywork.

Helen doesn’t believe her son and others who warn her that Logan is just a thug. She enters a nether world of drug use and violence. One wonders if both Helen and Logan are misfits.

The narrator is the only character in the tale “Close Quarters.” After giving a talk to a group, he skips a banquet and returns, tired, to his hotel room.

He hears strange sounds nearby – among them a baby crying; a woman gasping for air; someone banging pots and pans in a sink; and he thinks he sees his grandfather walking across what was the parking lot but to him is now an open field with a few sheep grazing.

The hallucinations take him back to his childhood and the soothing sound of his mother’s voice, recalling how they had grounded him when she rocked him in her arms.

The hallucinations suggest to him that there was indeed another world lurking in his head, “and it struck me with such clarity and space and truth: My hotel used to be St. Vincent Hospital, and this was the room where I was born.”

So the narrator is a sympathetic misfit.

Perhaps the most compelling story with the most dynamic, eccentric misfit is in the final one – “Black Heart (with apologies to Ezra Pound).” A must-read poem follows.

The misfit is an oracle, a larger-than-life poet named Anaam Akaam. His story is told through a female intern and through unsent letters to her. In one letter, he offers this guidance: “A good poet creates an environment to transform what is unjust, to heal those searching and lost. Poetry allows the poet to weave his talents and compassionate heart against destructive forces in our society.”

Jimmy Santiago Baca

Sounds like wisdom Jimmy Santiago Baca himself might impart.

Baca is a poet, essayist and novelist who has won numerous awards, including an American Book Award and a Pushcart Prize. Baca’s most recent award is the 2023 Southwest Books of the Year award for the poetry collection “No Enemies.”

Advisory: Contains adult language.

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