Storytelling has always been a way to cope with unfortunate events, from the biblical flood to the childhood one never had. In his wry debut collection, Things That Fall From the Sky, 28-year-old Kevin Brockmeier assembles a cast of lost souls as they try—and often fail—to overcome loss by turning to fiction.
A variety of bad things have befallen Brockmeier’s characters—cuckoldry, loss of work, death of a spouse—and their narratives feed off this diversity. In “The Ceiling,” a man recounts how a glassine dome appears in the sky and slowly lowers over his community, smothering his marriage in the process. In “A Day in the Life of Half of Rumpelstiltskin,” Brockmeier tracks the dwarf’s lost twin through a day of work, when he suffers existential malaise and begins to learn how “sometimes what’s missing isn’t somebody else.”
Brockmeier turns to the heavens to evoke his characters’ pervasive sense of loss. Men moon over constellations or cumulus clouds or ponder the speed of light as it travels through space. Although Brockmeier scripts these moments with admirable finesse, there are too many of them. Brockmeier achieves more poignancy when he approaches the matter metaphorically, as he does in the title story, in which a librarian falls in love with a patron intent on proving that gravity does not exist.
Since this is a book about storytelling, self-consciousness of form clings to some of these efforts like scaffolding someone forgot to disassemble. “These Hands” flounders for several pages on statements such as “The protagonist of this story is named Lewis Winters. He is also its narrator, and he is also me.” In “The House at the End of the World,” a man abducts his daughter, telling her that the world has ended and they are its last remaining survivors. One night he muses that “people used to tell stories about all sorts of strange things. . . . You have to wonder what’s become of all that now that we’re gone. . . . Were they haunting us, then, or were they haunting the places where we found them?” Brockmeier overplays his hand with lines like these.
But the best pieces in this collection are completely unselfconscious; they permit characters to speak for themselves and for readers to make their own interpretations. In short, they allow that in some rare instances, storytelling has the power to redeem.