Years from now, a Ph.D. student writing about the culture of the Occupy Movement will point to Occupy & Other Love Stories (Kelly’s Cove; $20) as an example of the fiction that emerged from the demonstrations against Wall Street banksters. But Sonoma County author Daniel Coshnear’s book stands on its own merits, without explicit connections to any social protest movement.
The characters in Coshnear’s strange love stories read Stephen King and Raymond Carver. They smoke marijuana, drive Nissans and work at Safeway. They could be your neighbors or your next of kin, and they’d like to celebrate Christmas. Preoccupied and in denial, they survive trauma and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and a host of other social and psychological ills. As new as the newest kids on any block, Coshnear’s gritty men, wild women and precocious children cry out for the lost soul of America itself.
Most of the stories in Occupy take place in Santa Rosa and along the Russian River. One story is set in New York, and the very last conjures up Berkeley during the Occupy Movement of last spring. It’s an overtly polemical tale, and might well be called revolutionary romanticism. Coshnear’s heart is with the citizens who won’t be silenced or sit still, though his characters don’t give speeches or march in the streets. They’re part of the 99% and too involved with divorce, depression and suicide to write leaflets, hang posters and shout slogans.
In “Early Onset,” the first story in the volume, the characters whisper in public and lie for their very own survival. The narrator and main character, in a T-shirt, goatee and ponytail, sees what can’t exactly be described, though he knows it to be the “symptoms of an illness” that’s contagious and spells the “end of empire.” In “Man on Fire,” an unnamed father reads about prisons on the internet and feels “helpless and cynical.” He’d like to be courageous, but when he goes to bed at night he’s a kind of kid afraid of the dark.
Parents and children inhabit “Attention!” and “Custodian,” in which a father and his son disconnect and reconnect. Love, sex and anxious relationships animate “Avulsion,” “Borscht on the Ceiling”—the New York story—and “Occupy,” the title story, in which a professor finds romance with a student.
The closer to home, the more convincing the characters, and while they play their own parts and speak their own minds independent of the author, they’re psychoanalyzed and their medications enumerated, as in “You Can Put Your Name on It, If You Want to.” Pills help the characters, though they long for more than drugs.
The cover art, titled Eating and Sleeping, and the illustrations by Squeak Carnwath, which are both realistic and abstract, highlight the tangible and the symbolic qualities in this weirdly beautiful collection of stories that make the local global and the global local.