The Heart is Also a Furnace and Pants All Night
by Magdalen Powers and Frayn Masters respectively; both reading at Urban Grind, 2214 NE Oregon, Aug. 27, 8 pm
There are 26 separate entrees in The Heart is Also a Furnace, Portland author Magdalen Powers' 43-page collection, but it would be a mistake to read them all in one sitting. The unassuming stories often lack direction (many are just sketches of a single memory or interaction), and there are a few stories that could've been cut altogether, but as a whole they form a coherent emotional slide show. Topics range from rescuing belongings out of a burning building to falling out of friendship in New York City to coercing a lover to dive into a river on a summer day. In one story, "The Betty Chronicles," Powers describes a loud, overbearing office worker who "takes up a lot of space," while conjuring up a silent, brooding narrator dedicated to taking up as little space as possible. It's not the most provocative topic in the world, but it's a pretty accurate read on what life feels like sometimes. Powers seems committed to the meticulous reconstruction of experience, whether emotional or physical, and she has the chops to do so with concise, evocative wordplay and a wry, subtle wit.
Likewise, local Frayn Masters' collection of self-consciously odd short stories, Pants All Night, reads like a racy children's book, with adult-fantastical tales of a woman falling in love with a sponge, and two other women who pass a fetus from womb to womb. Masters' stories are quirky but shallow, quickly read and more quickly forgotten. It's not that she's a bad writer: When describing the relationship between a man and his internet-ordered bride, she writes, "After a brief initial encounter they all showed the symptoms of being in love. [The bride] flew back to her homeland grinning like a surgical cut." Such lines are snappy and readable, but when lined up in a row, don't amount to much. Masters' knack for turning a glib phrase would lend itself well writing ad copy, or actual children's books; anything but these flippant, dismissible little stories.