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Colin Winnette

Colin Winnette is the author of Fondly and two previous books: Revelation and Animal Collection. He lives in San Francisco.

Blurbs

"Killing, killing and more killing are the three central leitmotifs of both novellas. And this is very funny stuff.''

– Christopher Allen

"Winnette is a talented writer and there is so much to see and do in Fondly, a whirlwind of character development and evaporation. It is a visceral book of self discovery, eulogistic familial drama and, at times, humor.''

– Ben Spivey

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Fondly

Speak of Fondly

10/29/13

To say that the two novellas in Colin Winnette’s Fondly are unrelated would be an understatement, as each is wholly different from the other in style, tone, substance, voice, character, plot – pretty much any identifiable feature.  In the current fiction marketplace, this type of range is rare.  Story collections are looked upon with more favor if the pieces are “linked” by some ostensible trait like setting or character or theme, or otherwise cobbled into an illusory whole that will be more satisfying to the reader (at least that’s what I suspect is the motive).

This is why Fondly is such a breath of fresh air.  The disparate novellas display a writer unafraid of diversity and capable of honing the unique voice that each story dictates.

The first novella, titled In One Story, the Two Sisters, is singular in its scope and presentation.  Dispensing with plot, the tale consists of a series of vignettes that are by turns surreal, hilarious, and heartbreaking.  The tie that binds is the presence of the titular two sisters, who morph into an array of shapes, people, and situations, each foregrounded by the vignette titles, which are meant to be taken literally:  For instance, in “In one story, the two sisters are Olympic swimmers,” the sisters spend their time swimming literally across an ocean as part of their training.  Among their crew are a writer, a Navigator, and a nefarious young man who introduces them to the gustatory joys of raw Orca meat.

The situations range from the mundane (“In one story, the two sisters decided to take a trip together”) to the absurd (“In one story, the two sisters were an olive at the bottom of a dirty martini and were clipped in two by a set of large teeth”) to the comically specific (“In one story, the two sisters were reasonably well-behaved nuns”).

Many of the vignettes bear the sheen of folk tales, set in forests or farms or old homes, with characters only referred to as “the old man” or “the younger sister” and so on.  And yet even this folk tale aspect doesn’t remain predictable, as some of the pieces feature trappings of the modern world such as computers, Mickey Mouse, and country music played on tape deck of a kidnapper’s car.  The result is a pleasantly strange experience for the reader, perhaps not for folks who desire easy connections and conventional narrative arcs.  But the novella will surprise and challenge, and Winnette’s prose is restrained yet artful:

She let her nails grow until they were tools.  Her hair’s gone wild.  She’s thin as a rake, holding out day after day for that smack of warm pumpkin, of spiced apple.  The sound of the wind is her asking kindly, plaintively, for the treat.  The scratching sound is her losing her patience.  The shatter comes when it’s already too late. (57)

The second novella, Gainsville, is more conventional, although it also takes risks:  most notably, the story is structured like a chain.  For example, we begin with Sonny and his unnamed brother, who progress quickly through adolescence until the brother has a child named Jiminy.  Then the story moves on to Jiminy; after eight pages, he has become an adult.  The focus shifts to Jiminy’s ex-girlfriend, who bears Jiminy’s child Osiris but raises him with a different father.  We follow Osiris’s sister Magdelene for a while, and so on.  Once we leave behind a character, we never encounter them again.

What connects the characters, and what propels the story forward, are the trappings of growing up – primarily the hormonal, sexual, and social pressures of adolescence – but also of finding one’s way through the world.  The home lives are grim and unsentimental, and the people in Gainsville’s universe constantly suffer in the wake of their parents’ (and their own) mistakes.  They get hooked on meth; they vandalize neighbors’ houses; they impregnate their teenage babysitters.  Whether or not they are redeemed is beside the point.  They are flawed and human, and therefore they are worth inhabiting.

In contrast to the first novella, Winnette’s prose is sparse:

The phone call was an update on the cat’s behavior.  She was moodier than usual.  She wasn’t eating much.  He was worried.  The next was an automated voice.  He let it play out while he scrubbed the cups and the bowls in the sink.  He pried the dried food loose with his fingernails.  The voicemail ended.  His girlfriend clicked on.  She was feeling better.  The whole thing was terrifying.  She’d thought she was going to die.  She could have died.  You don’t get many second chances in life. (174)

The universe of Gainsville is one in which humanity is displayed not through grand gestures or investment in individual failure or success, but rather through each new generation’s stubborn, irrevocable drive to simply exist, and to find in the smallest moments of affection the threads that tie us to everyone who lives in the shadows of our failures.

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