“The Italian Lunch (II)” by Cherise Wolas is the narrative equivalent of a matryoshka, those Russian nesting dolls that stack within each other. A tale of unfulfilled desire–and the emotional betrayal it represents for a married man–is revealed in ever smaller circles; first the man’s mind, then a restaurant, finally the den at home where he foresees that he will be confronted by his failure of nerve and his shabby fantasy of infidelity by the mundane fact of a charge on a credit card bill.
Cherise’s story “A Life and Death in CCTV,” with its frantic momentum and fast, skillful prose, paints a vivid and sometimes frightening picture of its narrator’s consciousness. The reader shouldn’t be fooled by the pop-culture referentiality, like the names of TV cop shows and the detectives in them. “CCTV” is about fear and urban paranoia, among other themes, for its narrator (as much as she loves to read, and loves to watch crime shows on TV) expresses much more than she can tell us outright: her imagination contains its own free-form police drama.
The narrator’s voice gives way to the voices and thoughts of the cops and detectives who discover her dead body (again, only in her imagination, but what a vivid imagination!), and who then investigate her life and retrace her last movements around New York City. Surreality sets in when these imaginary cops piece together the exact comings and goings of the narrator/would-be vic, and the shifting POV combined with consciousness-within-consciousness combine to dizzying effect. And the doubling of meaning between TV and CCTV (closed-circuit TV, used in urban surveillance) blurs the line between the watched and the watcher, between fantasy and actuality, and between fiction and reality itself.
Fictionaut Faves, a series in which Fictionaut members recommend stories on the site, is edited by Marcelle Heath, a fiction writer, freelance editor, and assistant editor for Luna Park. She lives in Portland, Oregon.