Review of Missing Possibilities by Jaime Balboa
The first of these excellent stories gives the collection its name: Missing Possibilities and concerns a runaway teenage boy. The friend looking for him tells the events in flashback and it transpires that he has been assaulted by his step-father for being or acting queer. The device of using multiple alternatives highlights the universality of this experience. Every day, Jaime Balboa seems to say, a gay kid runs away to escape violence/disapproval. Then various things happen: the sequelae are limitless. The alternative ending posited at the end is a happy one. Throughout the author uses parenthetical remarks in the way Nabokov does in Lolita “(picnic, lightning).” Balboa uses these to describe various possibilities or permutations, along with question marks which are not really necessary. The question marks are an editorial choice. The Test Drive is a satisfying story in terms of form, written like an essay with a circularity to it, starting at the judge’s bench and working back in flashback to the beginning, the age-old story of poverty, inequality and the prison-industrial complex. Time is managed seamlessly in this, like in an Alice Munro story, wherein we are not aware of the shifts in time, yet follow them automatically. In terms of editing, the grammatical tics—such as the use of the double negative—could be more effective if used consistently. Sometimes the protagonist does them and sometimes he doesn’t. Again, down to editorial choices.
Raziel’s Last Enchantment is a heart-breaking requiem for a starved, abused eleven year old boy locked in a closet in LA, told in a mythical, fairytale construction. It is understandable how this is the only way the author could tell this story and honor the dead boy. The story is redolent, in some ways, of that remarkable novel, Precious. In a couple places it is difficult to follow the person—who is doing what and where—again, a criticism of the light editorial hand and not of the author.
Baptism at Venice Beach is a rather enigmatic little story, spoken in the voice of a child who is perhaps otherly abled, as evidenced by the repetition and slightly obsessive thoughts. Perhaps the autism spectrum is hinted at. It is a well-crafted story in which the the boy child saves the girl, Roxie, from the sea. The voice is believable, unique and consistent.
Love Chronicles is an absolutely gorgeous gay love story, centered in the form of the haiku. The protagonist is named Tadzio, (the name of the fourteen year old boy in the German novel Death in Venice) a nod to seminal same-sex literature embedded there. Astoundingly, Jaime Balboa manages to put an entire fifty year relationship into a four page story with seamlessness and grace. Masterfully done, again with the Alice Munro-esque time management writing skills.
The haiku theme also features prominently in The Haiku Muse, concerning a bullied boy using haikus to do battle with. The ability to think in and speak in haiku form is here framed as a superpower. The supernatural, the spiritual realm, the Superpower Universe, literary history all combine here to tell a relatable tale with a literary bent.
In fact, in many of these stories the author deals with the harsh realities of current everyday life (except in the dystopian future of Cain Crouching at the Door, set in a Walking Dead-style
near-future) by couching the events in a mythological framework. They are stories of harsh childhoods (many of them of our queer siblings) and of survival as well as suffering. Mention has been made of the places in which the work could have benefited from a stronger editorial hand. It must be said that Jaime Balboa is a fierce writer: skilled, compassionate and fearless. He is particularly strong in the way he masterfully manages the time element in all of the stories. Missing Possibilities is a stunning short story collection.
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