There is an assumption at the heart of Mark Gluth’s excellent novella, an assumption it took until p86 (there are only 102 pages in the book) to unseat. Now, I’m willing to admit I’m not the brightest of boys and quite possibly the penny would drop for a brighter reader much more quickly than it did for me – but when the penny finally did drop, my experience of reading The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis was given a rise (imagine a warm pillow of air filling a hot air balloon or the noise a boiler makes as it catches the pilot light and ignites), a gentle whoomph that took me from thinking this is pretty good to thinking ooh, actually this is a little bit special.
As the title goes some way towards indicating, death is at the heart of Gluth’s debut, and not just the death of the eponymous Margaret, who we first meet sitting at her writing table. Margaret, perhaps unsurprisingly, is an elderly lady who lives with her dog and spends her days fashioning stories. She’s quite critical of herself (‘After dinner she writes three sentences. They’re not worth keeping, she thinks.’) but seems an affable enough old bean until, having wandered off for an afternoon stroll, she returns to find a fire has gutted her kitchen. This fire is the first glimpse we have of Gluth operating in the interstices. We are not privy to everything in this book. We only see what we are shown.
There are three parts to the book and it’s difficult to say much without giving something delicious away. The first part deals with Margaret and her demise; the second concerns four teenagers, Beth (a writerly sort who is adapting a short story by Margaret Kroftis into a screenplay), Peter (her boyfriend), J (a guy Peter is in a band with) and, eventually, Mira, a girl who has just moved to the neighbourhood who is into photography. I was favourably reminded of Jackie Corley’s book of short stories, The Suburban Swindle, reading the comings and goings of these four. There is a cool sort of indeterminacy to the way in which these characters interact with the world (perfume smells of something, things do stuff). The third part of the book introduces us to Mira’s parents (who remained off screen throughout the second part of the book) and that indeterminacy seems to have poisoned their world:
‘I felt like I was different but nothing had changed. I stood in the bathroom and stared into the mirror. I disappeared. The walls blurred and heaved. I watched as I loved through each day. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for very long. I ate too much sugar. I thought that maybe it was stress. You had me take vitamins. I felt like things weren’t really there. Or me. I daydreamed. I pulled back. I kept an eye on what things could become.’
Like Noah Cicero, Gluth writes in short sharp sentences; unlike Cicero, Gluth’s words pulse. Yes, you think as you read. These are the only words that could have been chosen to elaborate this truth.
I spotted mention of this book in an end of 2010 round up of the five best small press books of the year – if I’d not seen that I wouldn’t have become aware of this book which would, I think, have been a tragedy. If in reviewing this book, I can get you to track it down as well, I’ll consider that ample repayment for the pleasures it has afforded me.
Any Cop?: I’d heartily recommend The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis. A genuine surprise and a thoughtful pleasure. Heartily recommended.
[If you’d like to track down a copy of The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis by Mark Gluth start here]