Nathan Graziano,
(Green Bean Press, 2002)

It's amazing how many fictional characters exist in fantasy worlds. Not that they talk to elves or have powers beyond mortal ken. Instead, they show their immunity to reality by never worrying about money, ever. Not for emergencies, not for rent, not for any reason. It may make the plot run smoother, but it often makes the characters just a little too slick to care about.

Not so in Nathan Graziano's Frostbite. The almost heroes in the loosely connected stories are anything but immune to reality. Graziano remembers that in the real world, unemployment eats away at domestic bliss, and chronic unemployment interferes with freedom. The deepest emotions are often pushed to the background by the litany of daily worries: will I make a living, does my lover love me, what's the midget wrestler keeping in his bedroom?

So perhaps not all the situations are exactly everyday. But the people are. I know every one of them. I've sat with the roommates in "Padlocked" after another stupid move landed them in the ER, I've consoled the jilted lovers and listened to far too many of the ego-blinded open mike poets in "Catch." Sometimes they were friends; sometimes just people I worked with, or knew for a moment, but I know them again and deeper through their stories in Frostbite. Graziano takes the familiar faces, the people we sometimes forget to like, and makes them sympathetic again in the way only good writing can. Snippets of ordinary lives are shown off, sordid or desperate or just plain boring, and given the only honor ordinary lives can always claim. They are lived, and the people in them are stars, if only in the brief noise of their heads.

Not that Frostbite is some sentimental paean to the working class. That would take all the power out of it. Graziano's writing is sparse and unpoetic, creating an unwashed realism and pulling up the emotions of a winter that refuses to go quickly enough. This doesn't mean there's no beauty here. A man losing his love barricades his denial in with visions of her and rips the heartstrings right out of the reader. And watching an artist's casual eviction of her lecherous guest is far more empowering for its sheer lack of poetry. But these moments of grace and glory are surrounded on all sides by the business of regular life. Broken tools sabotage artistic dreams, and peer pressure works in the most depressingly stupid patterns.

The loose connections of the stories -- a main character of one story may only be the friend of a friend of a friend in another -- echoes the rambling structure of life, which tends to avoid grand flourishes. Everyone is the star of their own story, and a million light years from the next star. But the overall gift of Frostbite is a sense of connection. Each of these stars may be pathetically dim, masked by smog and clouds, but seen together, they somehow shine.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 30 May 2002

Buy it from