Briar Ripley Paige reviews Melancholic Parables

Briar Ripley Paige is the author of, among other works, the novella Corrupted Vessels (2020, swallow::tale press). They were kind enough to write a review of my forthcoming collection. I purloined bits of it to print on the back cover of the paperback version, but below is the review in full. I hope you enjoy it.

Dale Stromberg’s Melancholic Parables introduces itself as for and about the “antiselving”, those who resist “happening” and are “ill at ease to be known of”. Read one way (and backed up by the adjective “melancholic”), this introduction implies that these are parables about depression and existential malaise, which many or most of them certainly are. Read another way, it implies the parables represent a challenge to the very idea of an individual, consistent being and personality. This interpretation also holds true, particularly in the recurring character Bellatrix Sakakino.

Bellatrix retains her name and gender through all the stories in which she appears. She is usually, but not always, a human being of Danish and Japanese descent who lives in Japan. Beyond that, anything goes. She’s a child, a middle-aged business owner, dead. She’s a supervillain, an everywoman, a quixotic heroine, and the hapless victim of various bizarre misfortunes. She has a brother, or a brother and a sister, unless she doesn’t. She has love affairs with several different men, which go sour for different, sometimes contradictory reasons. Sometimes she’s a mouse. Sometimes she’s a computer simulation. Through Bellatrix, Stromberg challenges the reader’s notions of what constitutes “a character” or “the same character”—that is, what constitutes “a person” or “the same person”. How are mouse-Bellatrix and the Bellatrix whose heartbeat kills people “the same”? How are they contiguous? We ask ourselves this question, and we find ourselves drawn to ask how we are the same people we were in childhood, or the same people we are in dreams, or the same people we will be thirty years from now, or the same people we are when we’re blackout drunk. Maybe we’re not the same people—maybe the name that ties all these personalities and modes together is a convenient fiction.

In the non-Bellatrix stories, Stromberg retains this equivocal stance. A sort of wistful nihilism holds hands with absurd humor and lighthearted whimsy—some of the stories are almost horror, some are almost jokes. Although the collection’s format and flat-affected, descriptive style somewhat recalls Calvino’s Invisible Cities, the tone is closer to Kurt Vonnegut. I would recommend Melancholic Parables to those who enjoy either.

Discover more about Briar Ripley Paige at their website. Find out more about Melancholic Parables right here.