A Concern For Bodies
“Later, when they were bodysnatchers, bogeymen getting by with LA Spanish, when they were lovers and Natasha was on hormones, and the money ran out, and they found more, and Nok’s arm stopped hurting, she dreamt of that place and the body abandoned.”
You don’t have to have read the whole of “Rent, Don’t Sell” in Calvin Gimpelevich’s Invasions (Instar Books, 2018) to appreciate its penultimate run-on sentence, which breathlessly packs details into clauses like one imagines its characters throw money in a bag before speeding off into the unknown. If you do read the story in its entirety (and you should), you’ll find it lingering in your head many days after, stubborn as a dream.
The body abandoned. Nearly all of the stories in Invasions are concerned with bodies: abandoned, cut, sculpted, beaten, leased, jailed, fucked, and, yes, invaded. Horror movie classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and They Live showed us vulnerable human bodies taken over by alien life-forms; Gimpelevich’s body snatching is done by other humans, as in “Rent, Don’t Sell,” where technology allows personal trainers to work out in their clients’ bodies, and in “The Sweetness,” where one man’s “flashes” — a kind of extrasensory perception — become a sort of traveling consciousness that allows him to not only disassociate from a traumatic beating in a bathhouse but to occupy his attacker’s mind.
In “Transmogrification,” a 6-year-old girl (or, thanks to second-person POV, “you”) wakes up one morning as a large bald man, and the concept allows for both humor (“The loss of your hair is perhaps the greatest tragedy because you had only just grown your bangs out enough to tie them into a ponytail.”) and fear (“Your father comes shouting. You try to explain what is going on, but he doesn’t listen. … Unable to stand the chaos, you rush from your house, wearing only the ripped and stretched unicorn pajamas.”). The word transmogrification is defined as “to change or alter greatly and often with grotesque or humorous effect.” Gimpelevich does seem to invoke the grotesque in many of his stories, especially as defined by the academic Kathryn Hume:
“While many definitions [of grotesque] set up a binary opposition, they actually function, or can be parsed, in three parts, consisting of the opposed extremes plus the middle space in which they confront each other or merge. … In this way of conceptualizing the grotesque, we have two sets of values understood to oppose each other; in the space between grows a third possibility, the grotesque.”
All of Gimpelevich’s characters are queer and many are trans; there is something provocative in conjuring up the grotesque when writing about queerness — especially as it concerns transition and transgender experience. How does “Transmogrification,” for instance, which blends absurdity and pathos, dialogue with “You Wouldn’t Have Known,” a piece of realism that features an intergenerational group of trans folks recovering from surgeries in a Canadian hospital wing? In “Rent, Don’t Sell,” which appeared in Topside Press’s excellent 2017 anthology Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers, a trans man and trans woman switch bodies, but it isn’t a dream come true for both parties. These stories, in other words, are daring, funny, and inventive but also display empathy and honesty.
Gimpelevich ... breathlessly packs details into clauses like one imagines its characters throw money in a bag before speeding off into the unknown.
Invasions is a complex collection of trans and queer fiction, in which Gimpelevich’s writing shows enviable control: as it moves between the real and surreal it immerses readers in visceral out-of- and in-body experiences. It is a memorable addition to the growing, diverse body of trans literature.
REVIEWED BY AMANDA KRUPMAN
Amanda Krupman is a writer from Cleveland, OH. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flapperhouse, Smokelong Quarterly, The Forge Literary Magazine, BLOOM, The New Engagement, Punk Planet, and others. Amanda received an MFA in fiction from The New School’s graduate writing program and was recently a recipient of a Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Residency Award. She teaches writing at Pace University and Middlebury College. AmandaKrupman.com