The universe in Chris George’s The Occultation (Surveyor Books, 2021) is dark and nihilistic but also filled with morbid humor, and even redemption. A missing disabled mother leads her caretaker daughter on a barefoot late-night odyssey in “The Suicide,” an alcoholic finds solace and comfort in an abandoned flying-saucer house on a stormy night in “A Small Good Place;” these stories wind their way through human suffering and frailty.
George offers readers a glimpse into a reality that often doesn’t appear in literature, offering moments of optimism among the decay. In the story “The Suicide,” George describes broken lights in the protagonist’s dark, ramshackle house, and how in that darkness, fireflies light her path as “little lights hung just for [her], illuminating [her] path until [she] found the breaker box.” The protagonists in The Occultation are flawed, complicated, and often filled with sadness, but they are very real, walking right off the pages of the stories they inhabit.
Chris George is also a master of dressing a stage, and each story within this volume is meticulously written into its setting. The result is a feeling of unease and quiet desperation in most of the narratives, though these are expertly punctuated by moments of surreality and odd characters that float in and out like ghosts, like a mysterious woman in the story “Threesome,” who deftly remarks “I realize that Dallas is a confused city, and we are a confused people, so it’s a perfect place for refugees.” These stories reflect that confusion and desire to escape.
In all, while the locations within the stories of The Occultation might be places many Dallasites and Texans are familiar with, George invites readers to enter a universe just on the margins of urban and suburban experience: where fragments of the American dream rest at the bottom of flooded rivers, dive-bar bathrooms, and within uneasy conversations.
Lauren Brazeal Garza Lauren Brazeal Garza is a Ph.D. candidate in literature at the University of Texas at Dallas. Her published poetry collections include Gutter (YesYes Books, 2018), which chronicles her homelessness as a teenager. She has also published three chapbooks, including Santa Muerte Santa Muerte: I was Here Release Me, forthcoming from Tram Editions in 2023. Her work has appeared in Poetry Northwest, Waxwing, and Verse Daily among many other journals.