In this series of vaguely connected prose poems, Philip Gaber displays an apt ability to put emotions into words. Placed into the category of literary fiction, these vignettes are a peculiar form, half flash fiction, half poetry. And though it is odd, surrealist, and occasionally pretentious, Between Eden and the Open Road is an intriguing and thought-provoking read.
In “The dust of everyday life,” Pablo Picasso guest teaches a class of elementary students, attempting to convey his conception of the art of the human face as a means of revealing the psyche, as well as taking an interest in the school teacher. “The bright coming morn” takes the narrator to the streets, where he meets a drunken homeless man who claims to have been a famous writer, losing his home and going bankrupt after becoming a crack addict. The narrator, presumably also a writer, finds an odd sort of comfort in the homeless man’s words. Just fired from his job, the narrator of “Our absence from life” meets a woman at a train station who is visiting her sister; the narrator as well is visiting his own family, and both characters are having difficulty connecting with their relatives and end up dumping their shared worries on each other, the woman leaving the encounter feeling more encouraged and confident than the narrator. The last few lines of the story, as with the last few lines of the majority of Gaber’s story, sum up the emotions in the vignette and leave the reader with a sense of solemnity and honesty, albeit a dark sense: “As we pulled into the drive, I just sat there, staring at the front door. The cabby turned around to check on me. ‘Ya alright, kid?’ he said. I waited. “…I think I’m going to check into a motel tonight instead…”
Gaber plays with themes such as the fear of commitment, facing adult life and choices, and attempting to make a mark on the world as a way of being remembered and easing the fear of being forgotten. These ideas are concepts to which almost anyone can relate, and Gaber’s portrayal of the deep worries that plague us every day is a success. The characters that populate these vignettes are snarky, facetious, clever, and often drunk, and the dialogue is sharp and memorable. Wandering through life in a perpetual existential crisis, the narrator of many of the vignettes (assumedly Gaber) relates his encounter with an individual or a peculiar situation, seems to have a momentary epiphany in the last few sentences of the story, and then carry on with his life, uncertain how to utilize his new knowledge in everyday life. The honesty of the prose is dreary yet insightful, and the lyricism of the words translates the existential conflicts effectively onto the page.
Though readers may be apprehensive about the form of the work, the emotions and situations portrayed in Between Eden and the Open Road are sure to be relatable, moving, and darkly funny. One can’t help but to think that if Philip Gaber were to write a novel, it could be the next Fight Club or Catcher in the Rye.