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In Springdale Town
Robert Freeman Wexler
Infinity Plus, 96 pages

In Springdale Town
Robert Freeman Wexler
Robert Freeman Wexler's stories have appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including Polyphony, The 3rd Alternative, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and The Journal of Experimental Fiction. In 1997 he attended the Clarion West Writer's Workshop. He currently lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Robert Freeman Wexler Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Psychological Methods to Sell Should Be Destroyed: Stories SF Site Interview: Robert Freeman Wexler
SF Site Extract: The Circus of the Grand Design
Robert Freeman Wexler Interview

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Some SF readers lust for estranging strangeness, others for a strange familiarity, bordering on wish fulfillment, i.e.: "I am a hulking barbarian and/or space cowboy with babes and/or hunks falling at my feet." Robert Freeman Wexler manages a fetching if quirky combination of the two modes in In Springdale Town.

The structure may be off-putting for some, but for the rest of us, it's rather thrilling. It opens with an ostensible introduction from the author, purporting to tell us the origins of the tale, but he immediately raises our doubts:

  "[C]offee... dripped over the rim of the cup and attacked the notebook, granting an unwanted travel souvenir. I can show it to anyone who doesn't believe me."  

Why is the author reassuring us with authenticity that would be difficult for the reader to affirm? Even were we to do so, how does a coffee stain establish the authenticity to what follows? He lists a few odd events surrounding his visit to Springdale town, events which may or may not be true -- petty theft in an unfamiliar town and a flight from police. Presumably, an otherwise responsible adult is telling us this.

The narrative leads with a semi-popular actor, Richard Shelling, who decides to stay at a nowhere town, Springdale. Nothing particularly odd except his perceptions of the get confused: at times, the town is dead and empty, others when it's bustling and full. Either way, he feels a bit lonesome.

We switch from third-person to first-person to follow, Patrick Travis, a recently divorced lawyer who returns to his ex-wife's hometown of Springdale for a wedding.

The narrative passes like this -- odd and quirky, the town's people ignore Shelling, and Travis happens to pick up a book whose author he happens to bump into -- but largely the events are mundane until about halfway through the narrative when the town's people actively attack Shelling, and Travis is taken on a surreal, portal-world journey through town, finding pathways he didn't see.

Then the narrative takes an even stranger turn yet. Perhaps this could be read as science fiction -- in the tradition of Gregory Benford -- but it doesn't probe the events like SF. Rather, it uses them for a thoughtful examination of Robert Frost's "how way leads to way" ("The Road Less Traveled"). The theme is executed ingeniously except for the baker's dozen and a half footnotes, which don't contribute so much as attempt to establish a false sense of veracity. Maybe it's an attack on the false or impossible nature of memoir, or some other approach intended to undermine the narrative itself to lead the reader entirely elsewhere. It doesn't matter. This is a fantastically idiosyncratic narrative that will stick with you long after you put it down. A must must must-read.

Copyright © 2013 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.

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