What I just read – The View from the Sevent Layer

The View from the Seventh Layer is a collection of short stories by Kevin Brockmeier.

It’s difficult for me to think of any better way to sum up Kevin Brockmeier’s style of writing than the quote from the LA Times on the cover of this book.  “Some writers show us the world we live in.  Brockmeier shows us, instead, the one we might live in if only we had a little more imagination.”  He takes the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and combines it with a worldview where even intense tragedy can be beautiful.  He has the gift of making even the everyday and pathetic somehow endearing and special, and the darkest points of characters lives touching without ever forcing any overt sentimentality into the story.   Brockmeier is a writer with a subtle sense of humor, an incredible imagination, and profound love for every character he writes, no matter how flawed.

As much as I love Brockmeier’s writing, I have mixed feelings about Seventh Layer.  There are a number of stories which are just incredibly well written, with a control and style that immediately grabs the reader and clever premises that he uses to an excellent extent.  The real stand out stories are his most imaginative: fables about finding God’s coat in a pawn shop and the one mute man in a city of singers.  Clearly the greatest section is the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure that maps out a human soul.  The fact that he attempted it is impressive; the fact that it’s completely engaging is staggering.  There are also however a number of stories that just don’t end up working as well as they were probably intended.  The America’s Funniest Home Videos story and the look at the life of the Afghan girl after the famous photo just feel too forced.  The subtlety and imagination seen in the fables is noticeably missing from these stories.  And as sweet as the story of Captain Kirk falling in love is, it is still its own type of Star Trek fan fiction, and even the best writing is hard pressed to overcome that type of stigma.

All in all though, even at his weakest Brockmeier writes an entertaining story.  Seventh Layer is a touching, beautifully written and deeply compassionate look at the lives of people living in worlds much more creative than ours.

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