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Forrest Aguirre: Experimental Fiction
Forrest Aguirre

Forrest Aguirre
Forrest Aguirre received a BA in Humanities from Brigham Young University and an MA in African History from the University of Wisconsin. The uselessness of his education is shown in his employment: he is the inventory manager at Rutabaga, the world's largest canoe and kayak shop. His work has appeared or will appear online and in print in DeathGrip, Demensions, SteelCaves, Pegasus Online, Twilight Showcase, Flesh & Blood, Indigenous Fiction, The Earwig Flesh Factory, Redsine, Dark Planet, The Regurgitated Spork, Roadworks and Eraserhead Press's Strangewood Tales anthology. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife and four children.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Leviathan Three

For a sample of his online works (albeit some are earlier stories):
Apocalypse Fiction
Dark Planet
Death Grip
Demensions
Infinity Plus
October Moon
Planet Magazine
Steel Caves
Storyville
Wild Violet

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

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Forrest Aguirre writes a rarity these days: experimental fiction. The term seems to cause confusion. Experiment is writing that hasn't been done before. On the map of Here-There-Be-Dragons, this is where the experimental writer heads. He pioneers. Though he may tread ground that other pioneers have tread, he observes new details of that territory.

Some pioneers cannot help themselves. They cannot describe popular tourist spots, but only head out to certain territories in the realm of Dragons. R.A. Lafferty was one. Donald Barthelme another. Forrest Aguirre may be one of these. Forrest isn't quirky in the same vein of Lafferty and Barthelme, the primary quality one thinks of when thinking of Lafferty and Barthelme, but has a method of working peculiar to Aguirre: the fugue. Traditional story structure is tossed out. The writer follows the needs of the theme. Character? Characterized but not developed. Plot? You have to take a very broad scope in order to recognize anything of its like. Theme is everything.

Or is it theme? Perhaps it is the idea that best guides the Aguirrean fiction -- much as it does in a Terry Bissonian fiction... not that the connection would be immediately apparent without extensive study since their styles (Aguirrean macabre, Bissonian wit) differ widely on the surface. Moreover, Aguirre rings and wrings out the ideas in a way that he immediately strikes one as experimental where Bisson is experimental in theory.

Finally, another popular genre misconception is the short short, which tends to sit in people's minds as cutesy or less significant than longer pieces because there's more of the longer story. Is a midget less significant than a giant because there's more giant? Aesop tried to correct this misconception by speaking of the lion and the mouse. What makes a midget significant is the same as what makes the giant significant: if there's more than meets the eye. If you can read the story beyond the page, then the story succeeds. Unfortunately, some people cannot read beyond the page, so short shorts will always fail for them. Fortunately, for those who can, Aguirre has a few fictions that do go beyond the number of words he has written -- a difficult accomplishment indeed.

The first and [second] best example is "Downstream Flow: A Fugue." Each paragraph introduces a character(s) who hands the baton of narrative to the next character(s). The idea is at first buried -- much as any horror fiction so this may be another reason why it is Aguirre's primary source of genre publication -- buried in the mundane chores surrounding a river. But the river is no ordinary river as we begin to understand and as the characters interact with the bounty that flows within the river. Perhaps the relationship could be made clearer, but a definite caste is cast upon the beings in the river and those that feed upon it. Is it a commentary on hunger? on caste and class? or on the simple way we treat humans like refuse? I don't mind the multiple possibilities so much as a dearth of thematic pointers although what is here gives us a strong sense of purpose that the author has built more into the work than we can get at with the present paucity of clues.

"It Keeps Them Coming Back" is less thematically guided although it is much closer kin to what people might consider a story and, therefore, more likely to please a wider audience. Billy and his mother come to a punch-n-judy show when the mosquitoes swarm in, carrying something that kills nearly the entire audience. Punch and Judy find that a handful of children have survived; they have mysterious plans for the children, plans to keep them coming back. The associations here are again left a little personal. Perhaps had I lived with Aguirre and the mosquitoes in Wisconsin, I might have known that the government had planted the mosquitoes with Ebola in order to have the children...

On "Judgment Day," a far simpler story to interpret, we find ourselves gleaning the true hierarchy of the afterlife -- a favorite topic of Aguirre's. Henrik, another boy, has his parents peeled from him and hauled to concentration camps while the boy comes under the protection of the Father Blinkhelm, or Otto the Obese. This protection is paid for by services much like those that the Catholic Church has had much criticism about of late. Although it has little surprise, it has emotive bite that might have been sharpened with a little more paring, especially in the first scene with Molech who does little but sharpen his teeth and complain.

Klepto Willie has "Precognitive Myopia" in a less significant work. Willie is stealing from his own family, but the joke's on him. A rather crude joke. The play with form, however, rises the work above where it might have been had it been told relatively straight-forward.

That old American figure of myth, that man who transformed America into bounty, is transformed into Johnny Milkpodseed, a return character for both "Return from Abaddon" and "Something Familiar about the Farm." In both he plays the god-like narrator made manifest although in the latter, he's a little less cognizant of the Afterlife goings-on. In the former, he sows land from the droppings of a War in Heaven [oblique reference to Paradise Lost] -- what is the fruit of war? In the latter, he brings a blind and legless man back from the dead to learn what the Afterlife is like. Slowly, the babbling man comes about to the conclusion of where he'd rather be.

"Tea Time" is reminiscent of the allegorical "Pilgrim's Progress." The pillars of the community named in bold caps -- RESPECTED POLITICIAN, GORGEOUS SUPERMODEL, REVERENT PREACHER, ASTUTE SCHOLAR, and GIVING PHILANTHROPIST -- expose the others to their inner "beauties."

"The Nut Lady's Cabin" is a slight work of how a woman's life of giving, of feeding squirrels can be sacrificed into an icon. Perhaps this is a commentary on Christ, but if so, it neglects the literatures that build that icon. This criticism is the same I have for "Downstream Flow: A Fugue" and "It Keeps Them Coming Back."

"The Reverie Styx," the last and easily the best of all the shorts, stands as a pinnacle of Aguirre's fugue form -- not only that, but the reader who fears experiment can also enjoy it. A trio moans and chuckles about how they're going to split their diving companion's inheritance as their companion explores the river bottom fishing out the men of hell with his spear. This story should be on several greatest-hits lists: experimental, literary, horror, short-short.

The last offering is a novelette for those who prefer to read only what's on the page and need to get their feet wet. Chadwick Giles is "The Butterfly Artist" who illustrates in their natural habitats the butterflies that Dr. George Chelsea collects in Africa. In a ballroom, Giles bumps into a wild white native Afrikaner lady who will teach him the value of what is truly Africa and not what is in the pamphlets the government circulates: a dark secret that the rumors get only half right. While the settings are rich, the characterizations decent, and a well-worn theme well-wrought, the story suffers a little in the translation from the short short to the novelette, feeling a little jerky in its episodic-ness. Still the story's strong enough to be enjoyed by most, and a step in the right direction for the author breaking into territory yet unfamiliar to him.

All in all, the chapbook is ideal for the collector of experiment or horror ambiance -- as opposed straight horror fans. Since most magazines skimp on experiment, Aguirre is probably on a lot of editors' To-Watch lists. Expect to see his work break into a few of the larger magazines sometime in the future, but how long will be a matter of development of craft, taste, time, and editorial whim.

Aguirre has work forthcoming in Exquisite Corpse and a work nearly as strong as "The Reverie Styx" in 3rd Bed called "Kaleidoscope of Africa" (it's a little predictable but well-wrought, nonetheless). [Late breaking news: the author was just accepted into Notre Dame Review.]

Copyright © 2003 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for SFsite.com, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.


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