If Jason Lee Norman’s Americas was a dog, it would be one of those toy chihuahuas you laugh at while it barks madly about how it’s going to gnaw your shoelaces off, buddy, just you wait – and that you then cry at when it actually DOES gnaw your shoelaces off. And your toes. And your foot. Except by “cry” I mean “feel impressed,” and by “gnaw your shoelaces off,” I mean “deliver stunning imagery and an emotional wallop despite being roughly the size of a U.S. passport.”
Americas is a tiny book, but a powerful one. In 22 flash-fiction tales – one for each country on the American continents – Norman lays out a series of heart-wrenching (for good or bad) images. You’ll want to scream with the Hondurans, argue with the Colombians, poke dead bodies with sticks with the U.S.ians.
The stories in Americas are not, for the most part, literally true. I assume. I mean, I’m pretty sure Nicaraguans do not keep their tears in jars and that Paul Newman is not wandering around Bolivia (Nicaraguan readers and/or Paul Newman, help me out here). But it’s irrelevant, because the truths in these stories aren’t captured by their literal meanings; they’re woven into the images and rhythms that hold the language together.
But what I think I love most about this book is not merely that it’s readable, not merely that it achieves the balance between playing with images and narrative coherence that is so key to prose poems (which these 22 tales could easily be). It’s that Americas doesn’t end with its own 22 tales. Any or all of them make startling writing prompts as well as self-contained reading; it would be as easy to join the story here as it is to read it:
- Write about eating scallops prayerfully, like they would do in Honduras if they weren’t busy screaming their prayers.
- Costa Rica’s 100+ words for sand are….
- Write a Canadian history lesson for TV is that is not actually Canadian history, but is the kind of history that would be very Canadian and really you’re surprised it didn’t actually happen in Canada.
And so on.
Totally unexpected, totally absorbing, totally worth it. Also, you can buy it for the Kindle, in case you don’t want to carry 50 pounds of books with you on the pan-continental trip this book will probably inspire you to take. (This book does not weigh 50 pounds, but we recommend you get some travel guides too. Just in case.)