Witchita Stories, by Troy James Weaver. Portland, Oregon: Future Tense Books, April 2015. 200 pages. $12.00, paper.
Troy James Weaver’s collection Witchita Stories takes us back to our childhood, our hardest years, and the struggles that come along with it. These short short stories give us glimpses into the life of the narrator and his relationships with his brother and parents—and his fear of becoming just like them. Weaver revamps the coming of age story by giving us only the bare essentials, using a collage style to recreate a life in short, gritty stories. These tactics force us, as readers, to rethink pieces of our own fragmented lives and fears.
Weaver fills this collection with flash style stories that follow the narrator and those close to him, using lists of movies, flowers, music albums, and pictures to supplement the narrative. These extraneous materials all come together to set a time and place for the reader. At the same time, these moves pull us out a bit, giving the reader a chance to breathe, to make connections and feel their own stories reflected in the author’s. In the short “PCP,” the narrator says, “I stole road signs and decorated my room with them,” something most male teenagers do at least once in their lives. Or in “Fishing,” the narrator asserts, “I used to go fishing when I felt like the world was sucking me down,” an action that melds nostalgia and the desire to escape. In stories like “First Kiss,” we reenact our own sexual explorations and discoveries in a game of spin-the-bottle. After kissing two girls at a party, the narrator says, “for a while, I convinced myself that this is what love felt like,” an adolescent reflection on lust and love that most readers will be able to connect to.
Weaver also incorporates struck-through sentences, a visual cue that disrupts the flow of reading. These sentences seem as if the narrator/author, in the act of writing them, realized that the lines weren’t what they had hoped, too emotional. They read as an attempt to recreate the past, a movement mirrored by the sections titled “Revision I” and “Revision II,” in which the narrator states the reality of what happened. “Revision II” even clarifies the mystery of the earlier story “Midget.” These shorts work together—we get the story manifested as rumor in childhood and the adult reflection of what really happened. The melding of these two perspectives—playground rumors and mature realizations—deepen the effect of the first story. These revisions, these struck-through lines, along with the use of special text characters, like a heart symbol, are constant reminders that we are reading a text, a story. That this is something constructed. Another such mystery is the spelling of “Witchita” in the title of the collection—not the same as the place “Wichita” used inside the collection. This draws attention to itself—Weaver possibly alerting to the reader that this is a constructed story and place, based on the real but not entirely true.
Weaver’s conversational tone and minimalistic approach in telling these stories isn’t new, but Weaver uses this narrative technique to rethink old stories, to tell the experiences of adolescence we all have had. Weaver forces us to find ourselves, realizing things about our experiences as the narrator discovers them himself. As the collection goes on, Weaver circles the same territory—his brother, addiction, death, and place—and as the book progresses, we watch the narrator making sense of his experiences, developing the tone of a mature narrator, an equal. There is even a nod from author to writer-as-reader with the constructed nature of text and the idea of storytelling—“Midget” vs. “Revision II.” We connect to the stories not only as someone who has experienced the same things, but who is attempting to write about them as well.
Throughout the collection, Wichita never strays far. The place is reasserted and made specific to the narrator, not the reader. Snippets of overheard conversations in line at the grocery store and overheard jokes pepper the book. Black-and-white photographs of sewage drains and garages and empty parking lots cement the book’s setting, giving the reader an image to hold onto—as well as jarring them out of their own recollections. The reader feels at home, but at the same time in a strange place.
Weaver uses this collection to explore the idea of personal narrative—our past, our stories, what matters. Adolescent memories like games of spin-the-bottle, childhood treehouses, and acid trips are underscored by moments that haunt the narrator—a date rape he could have prevented, friends who committed suicide. The narrator says in “Vacation” that his early life seems like “a bunch of shit … [to] tell for the sake of telling,” but that it’s “all so much more than that,” that he had to undergo to “experience myself as me in the now.” Weaver writes to writers and readers, laying bare the painstaking process of unpacking our past—and why we should even bother.
Chris Liek is originally from York, Pennsylvania, and in the ten years between high school and going back to college, he worked in warehouses and factories, because that’s what you were supposed to do. He hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail and spent time at a primitive living community in North Carolina called Turtle Island Preserve. He learned how to fell a tree, notch it out like Lincoln Logs to make a cabin, how to hammer a knife, a nail, a horseshoe out of coal heated metal. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Houston.