With Out of Cleveland, poet and academic Lolette Kuby has produced a promising and occasionally brilliant first collection of short stories.
The book’s first tale, “Ninety East,” weaves back and forth between the minds of two drivers following each other on the highway and culminates in a cautious roadside meeting. It’s an intriguing premise, but one that is hampered by an overly self-conscious, stream-of-consciousness style.
Things improve steadily from there, however, as Kuby experiments with a variety of narrative approaches. Ironically, the further she gets from poetry and the closer to prose, the stronger her work gets.
The two standout stories in the collection, “Poison” and “Mysterious Infestations,” are deeply sinister and Kafka-esque. In the first, a lonely, newly divorced protagonist takes on a roommate – a Turkish doctor – to help pay her mounting bills. The doctor’s work involves poisoning lab rats for disease research, but the protagonist soon suspects that she herself is being used in these experiments after developing mysteriously painful physical symptoms. “Mysterious Infestations” is even more unsettling, the images it evokes hard to forget. In it, a woman details her physical infestation by a form of centipede that she excretes through her bodily fluids. The condition, which worsens over time, becomes so debilitating that she determines to end her own life. Her quandary is over how best to do so without having her condition posthumously revealed.
Kuby’s strengths here lie in the purposeful ambiguity she reveals in the minds of her narrators, who must grapple with the question of the degree to which their problems are self-inflicted or imagined. Her questioning of the nature of pain, disease, and womanhood lends the stories psychological depth and frequently makes for compelling reading.