Floyd Skloot is a mainstay in Portland—he's been a transplant from Brooklyn since long before it was cool—mostly as an essayist, memoirist, and poet. He writes thoughtfully and powerfully, chiefly about his own life. Now, in his early 60s, he's releasing his first collection of short fiction and it proves that you can't become a mainstay without getting a little bit, well, old.
Most of the stories in Cream of Kohlrabi feature older protagonists or narrators. Most of those are Jewish. A lot of the stories take place in Oregon, Brooklyn, or both. They're all about loss. The first seven all revolve around memory loss and take place in nursing homes. That's a lot for a collection of stories to have in common.
The stories also share a set of short-fiction clichés. There's a lot of hand holding: Protagonists are introduced by their full names in almost every opening paragraph. Irony is spelled out prematurely, sometimes even before the story starts—sample title: "Alzheimer's Noir." The shortest stories, "The Peanut Vendor" and "The Shorefront Manor," resemble slightly fleshed-out jokes that, given their subject matter (Vietnam and diabetes), would be crass if they weren't so heartfelt.
That's where Skloot saves these stories. The standouts, which are immersive and emotionally gripping, are that way because Skloot writes such terribly honest characters. It's striking how warmly and humanely Skloot writes about loss.
That is especially true in the later stories, which examine the loss of youth through prisms like athletics, religion, and family. These stories have a crucial subtlety, unlike the first seven stories in the collection, which lack depth because they attempt to deal directly with that loss. Unfortunately, those seven make up over a third of the book, and are put at the beginning like an obstacle.
The exception is the title story, about a Holocaust victim in a nursing home in Oregon. It's the real, fluid, heretofore untold story of what happens when a survivor may have survived too long, and it's probably the best story in the collection. They are, unfortunately, rare, but those stories that reach such heights are keen and sweet and lasting. Skloot is a great memoirist, but his warmth and thought are alive in accounts of invented lives, too, just harder to find.