This Business of the Flesh
Apprentice House Press, 2018
It’s easy to discount regional fiction–prose intent on capturing the unique character of a place. While many and most fiction writers and teachers will heap praise upon ‘place,’ very few doing anything of note. That is, they keep writing about places we all know all too well. This makes literature of elsewhere quirky or novel, the synonyms which come to mind when the term local color is bandied about. However, quality literary fiction is always firmly grounded in the vibrancy of the story’s locale.
Southern fiction floats in sea of cliché, although it is being invigorated and made relevant by writers of color, the only southern writers telling meaningful stories. New England/New York has been covered in such detail and in such gross numbers there is nothing interesting or relevant a writer can say about it except in terms of receiving plaudits from like-minded folk. It is western and Midwestern literature that has the most to offer readers in terms of depth and breadth of emotion and experience. Everything is at once familiar and deeply unsettling in the north, on the plains, in the southwest, and Pacific. It is a queer mixture and one producing some of the best fiction in the nation.
I would place in this growing canon C. Kubasta’s novella This Business of the Flesh set in contemporary north-central Wisconsin. Kubasta centers her story on Tracy who over a summer deals with the fallout from her brother’s suicide, becoming the new caretaker of his dogs–two pit bulls, one being a surviving bait dog, and a guarded mastiff, as well as her own collapsed long-term relationship and emotional distance from family. This narrative is made compelling as readers are given glimpses of the resonant stories of those people orbiting Tracy but from their own point of view allowing us to feel each character’s impact with heightened resonance. For example, the narrative easily and gently shifts to Lucy and her partner Carla who step forward to help Tracy acclimate to her new wards. The reader’s detour into their story doesn’t feel tangential and soon it is clear Kubasta has given us just enough to fill out the characters making them real rather than merely servicing the plot.
More than anything, This Business of the Flesh is a narrative about building bonds–how to fulfill the respect due to others while satisfying not just one’s own desires but needs. In this way, Kubasta has expertly captured the fundamental conflict in the hearts of so many Midwesterners especially those of the proper north (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Chicagoland, and the lived in Dakotas). She has done so without ever condescending, mocking, or glossing over the banal politics of small town living. In fact, Kubasta is subtle in her presentations of simmering class hostilities woven into the fabric of interpersonal relations at nearly every level. Also, this isn’t a novella where the protagonists pines for elsewhere, some mythical ‘big city’ or more cosmopolitan region nearly always the default setting for literature not actually of its locale. Kubasta’s prose has a matter-of-factness to it allowing it to move from character to character confidently guiding readers with a gentle hand allowing the utmost reading pleasure.
There is an ease to This Business of the Flesh, a trait often mistaken for simplicity, enticing and gripping readers. As Tracy comes to make peace with her brother’s death through her bonding with the dogs (most especially the mastiff Stella), she discovers she has honed the tools necessary to build a family around her of her choosing. This nuanced and intimate story of a woman carving out a life entirely for herself but committed to others is exceedingly satisfying as it respects yet transcends the place from which it sprung.
This Business of the Flesh will be published in October.
You can pre-order it here.
You can also check out her exceptional novella Girling.
About the Author
A Wisconsin native, C. Kubasta experiments with hybrid forms, excerpted text, and shifting voices –her work has been called claustrophobic and unflinching. Her favorite rejection (so far) noted that one editor loved her work, and the other hated it. Her poetry has appeared in So To Speak, Stand, The Notre Dame Review, Pith and Construction, among other places.
She is the author of two chapbooks, A Lovely Box and &s (both from Finishing Line); Box won the 2014 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets chapbook prize. Her full-length poetry collection All Beautiful & Useless (BlazeVOX [books], 2015) explores the stories of growing up girl in rural Wisconsin in fragments, ellisions and half-understood stories.
Her most recent books are Of Covenants (poetry, Whitepoint Press), Girling (a novella, Brain Mill Press), and This Business of the Flesh (novella, Apprentice House Press).
She teaches writing, literature and cultural studies at Marian University, coordinates the Lake Reading Series at the Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts, is active with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and serves as Assistant Poetry editor at Brain Mill Press. She lives with her beloved John and St. Bernard-mastiff mix Ursula.