‘Gloss, or the Strange History of Our Lady of the Sorrows’ by John Keene

This is the story as chronicle, a nobody-but-John-Keene dive into history, coming back with something that could sit alongside Kleist’s ‘The Earthquake in Chile’ but is many times longer, fuller, more drenched in language, and with all the twists and turns fully delineated and lived in. And Keene takes on events where we, he, and his characters are really in for it. Here we live the Haitian Revolution. And that’s just for starters. How’d you like to follow the line that Keene draws from there to a convent in Kentucky? To read this story is to be so long in coming to the ending that the beginning is like a strange half-memory. How did I get here? Where do we know each other from?

A quick aside to mention a story that lives as fully in its odd history as this one: ‘That Gagarin’ by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. Both stories come to me when I read stories wearing their historical trappings too lightly, so that they are really just any short story… in period dress. Keene and Krasznahorkai both bother to live their tales in language and habits of thought that tell us we’re doing things differently now, here in the past.

Included in Counternarratives, New Directions/Fitzcarraldo, 2015