For Out of the Heart Proceed by Jensen Beach
Dark Sky Books, 2012; 120 pp
Reviewed by Megan Turner
Disclosure: I studied fiction with Jensen Beach at the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“Two women beside us had started to fight over an old popcorn maker. It was a heavy-looking appliance with a cracked hood and a melted side. One of the women pulled on the cord. Her turquoise earrings swung in circles. The other woman held on tight to the base. Together they pulled the popcorn maker into pieces. We all looked to the seller. With his good hand, he stroked his beard.
‘Now you both owe me five bucks, he said.’”
Jensen Beach’s short stories are a joy to read. They are a testament to why we write. More importantly, the stories in his first collection, For Out of the Heart Proceed, demonstrate the importance of short fiction and why more readers should pay attention to it.
Each short story contains a tiny capsule of joy, a glimmer of hope despite the often dire circumstances that surround each character. With just a few pages, Beach creates and sustains a mood. He provides the reader with tragic, yet often humorous anecdotes that linger long after one finishes reading.
One of my favorites, “Peafowl,” describes a man buying a peacock despite his wife’s protests. When he goes to the farm to purchase Profitt, he inadvertently ends up with two birds. Although he frees one peacock, he ultimately relates to the unfairness of this situation and releases Profitt as well.
Each of Beach’s stories contains short observations. The most touching of these explore the relationship between a father and his child. The father attempts to explain the meaning of a world he cannot comprehend himself. In “The Dark Is What,” a boy and his son construct jigsaw puzzles, many of which are missing pieces. “‘People can be greedy and dishonest,’” the man says to his son as a way of explanation. “‘You should get used to that.’”
Within his collection of flash fiction, Beach also includes several longer pieces. In “Orion,” a childless man interacts with a coworker who has recently lost his daughter in a car accident. In Beach’s “For Out of the Heart Proceed,” a man named Jim agrees to let his ex-wife take their son to Cleveland, and yet he finds himself unable to let go.
These pieces belong together. As a body of work they point to the unjust as well as to the oddly juxtaposed. Within such small moments, they create space for joy and humor—the kind that often goes unrecognized within a larger state of profound grief.