» Book Review
The Meaning of Home
Homesick: Stories by Nino Cipri
Dzanc Books, 2019
Paperback, 197 pages, $17.00
Nino Cipri’s debut story collection is a wonderful exploration of the meaning of home, and what it means when we find it, if we ever do. Throughout each of these stories, characters are asked to relate to a new and changing reality, whether that be finding new life after divorce or rumbling with a mother’s rejection after telling her about being transgender. Cipri, a queer and trans/non-binary writer, explores many LGBTQ+ narratives through wonderful, often magical, speculative stories. Each story ponders on what family and reality look like, especially when others have turned their back on you.
The speculative aspects of this collection are done so well that it doesn’t matter how weird the plot might become, the reader is ready to roll with the surreality. In “Let Down, Set Free,” Melissa finds a floating tree on her neighbor’s yard and rides it into her future. In “A Silly Love Story,” Jeremy has a nectarine-loving poltergeist in his closet. In “Presque Vu,” Clay is haunted by keys magically appearing in his throat. These elements, wonderfully executed, allow the narrative to speak on a deeper-than-just-weird level. The reader physically experiences Melissa being uprooted and lifted off to another reality. Jeremy learns about his love-interest only after they bond over the poltergeist. Clay, not knowing what the keys physically unlock, has to wait for the other haunts to find out his future. Each of these characters has a tangible element to help ground the narrative, even if all the trees aren’t similarly rooted.
Other stories find their strength in form. In “Which Super Little Dead Girl ™ Are You?” the reader takes a Buzzfeed style quiz to find out which murdered girl they are. Through this imaginative form, the story contemplates what it would be like to be one of these little dead girls—how you’d live on after death, how you’d stay the same age, how you’d be different. In this fun yet harrowing story, Cipri creates a superhero-like adventure for the strong, spunky, and doomed girls who met their end too soon.
“Dead Air” is another story with experimentation in form. The entire story is told through a translation of recorded material, which makes the story ninety-nine percent dialogue. Nita, the person with a recorder, crafts an art project by recording interviews with her lovers. Because of the form, we fall in love with Maddie along with Nita, and we feel just as confused when trying to understand Maddie’s past in her small hometown. The mystery that holds people in the town, that eventually kills them, is still hidden from Nita and the reader, but we believe Maddie when she says we have to get out before it’s too late.
The heartbreaking “The Shape of My Name” is a hallmark example of this collection’s theme of changing reality. The narrator, a transgender person, wrestles with their mother’s rejection after their coming out. This story, like the others, is speculative in nature. The family has the ability to time travel, though that travel is limited to the years 1905 to 2321. This story effectively bends the view of reality within the narrator. They’ve lived in multiple timelines, gone back in time to see their mother, to come out to her while she was still young. The most heartbreaking moment of the story happens when Heron, as the narrator has chosen to be called, shows up to their mother’s stoop and sees their younger self playing in the background. The mother questions having a son, and they tell her she already has one. She pushes her child away, so the child can’t see their future self, and closes the door on Heron. “The Shape of My Name” gives us a character who has not only lost their mother because of her rejection but has also lost her to time.
Whereas “The Shape of My Name” is about a family torn apart, “Before We Disperse Like Star Stuff” focuses on a family mending. This final story of the collection, the pivotal story, follows three ex-colleagues and ex-friends—Damian, Lin, and Ray—as they work on a documentary about their discovery of the ossicarminis, an extinct weasel-wolverine animal that had supposed sentience. This story plays with form by being in all three points of view and by having section breaks that are sound bites from their interviews with the documentary crew. These sections allow each character to have a voice and a perspective throughout this narrative. When you reach the end, there’s never a question about what each character thought or what they felt in the moment.
The close proximity of the documentary allows Damian, Lin, and Ray to hash out their past to help rebuild their future. Damian, who wrote a book on the ossicarminis, finds his friends resent him for not including them and taking all of the money for himself. Lin, a PhD candidate, has the bones of the creature in her apartment while writing her dissertation and is caught not protecting them the way she should. Ray questions the dig and wonders about the ethics of not only monetizing the destruction of a type of sentient being, but also removing them from their final resting place. The dig has previously torn apart the group’s work relationship, as well as their friendship, because of their difference in perspective on the same event. This story showcases the blending of personal and professional relationships and how even ones that have been cut off for years can be mended with a little digging. When we see this trio drive off happily into the distance, we hope that the other characters in this collection can someday do the same.
Homesick successfully confronts changing (and challenging) realities and gives hope that no matter what today looks like, there’s always hope that tomorrow will be better, and that there’s always a place for you out there—you just have to find it.