Review: Melancholic Parables: being for the antiselving reader

By Nadia Bruce-Rawlings

The press blurb for Melancholic Parables describes the book as: “Whimsical and dolorous, ironic and absurd, this slippery assortment of stories and fragments masks existential dysphoria with deceptive simplicity and hangdog comedy—all the while asking you to read what is not there, what is also there, what is parabolic.”
Based on that, I wasn’t sure I was the target audience, but I ventured forth, keeping a positive eye. Stromberg is a wonderful writer, and the concept of this whole book is simply fascinating. I loved his words and his use of humor in grim moments.
The book is a series of mostly two-page flash fiction parables that all tie together. Thirteen sets of seven stories. I’ll admit, I thought it would be too pretentious for me. But I quickly fell in love with his hero, Bellatrix Sakakino, a not-so-perfect woman with strange ideas who sort of wanders through the book. Her character changes quite significantly with each parable, yet somehow the contradictions make sense.
An excerpt - and why I love Stromberg’s writing:
“Bellatrix Sakakino and her boyfriend Amrish had a fight. They had it, the way you have a baby.
“Fights grow up fast. Before long, their fight was old enough to have fights of its own. It had two.
“Each of those two soon had two more fights, and each of those soon had two of their own. And on and on.
“While human parents generally die before their children, one peculiarity of fights is that they can only die after their children. And they don’t move out of the house.”
Lofty ideas and frank humor work off of each other in Stromberg’s work, and it makes for a delightful read. We wander through time and space - sometimes we’re in Tokyo, sometimes Malaysia, sometimes the United States. Bellatrix is many ages, has many siblings at different times. At one point she falls in love with her cloned twin, who, when he learns that they are related, simply states “God…how creepy.” and leaves, much to her sadness. In another part of the book, Bellatrix loses her leg and also the part of her brain that should remember the incident. And she simply falls down, repeatedly. Again and again.
The parables which do not feature Bellatrix are not simply filler. In one story, a murderer awaits his execution: “When they administer Brad Merle Gost’s execution by lethal injection, they will dab his needle wounds with cotton swabs. To prevent infection, presumably.” Again, Stromberg’s emphasis is on the absurd.
I’m not sure I “got” it all in one read - I do want to go back and do it all over, as Melancholic Parables requires some time and some pondering. But the fact is, I actually want to re-read it. Perhaps I am the target audience after all.