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5.16.2011

SSM2011 - Review: "Breaking Free" by Farida Samerkhanova

The Istanbul Literary Review is one of my favorite online magazines. It's a small simply designed website that started in 2005, that includes strong writing from around the world.

The latest January issue features writers from New Zealand, India, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, and Canada, where writer Farida Samerkhanova is based.

Her story, "Breaking Free" is a 900-word work of absurd minimalism akin to Tao Lin (but somehow not as a annoying, perhaps because she is Canadian). Through it, she is all at once ironic, sarcastic, tragic.

The story begins simply:
"My daughter keeps calling. She is drunk. She screams. She calls me a crook and says I make her life miserable. I turn off the phone. Jim is constantly beating her up. It is my fault.He broke her leg the other day. She led oto the police that she fell in her bedroom. He threatens to burn down my house if I dont pay off the debt immediately."
A hardcore minimalist, the narrator presents just the facts: what has happened and what is happening. It lacks inner thoughtfulness, which makes the story perhaps more believable despite the absurd: the bill collector ("I will never forget his name--A. Bailey."), her get-rich scheme, and Ellen Degeneres. It is deadpan comedy: "I suck," the narrator says. Then she kills herself. Or at least attempts to.

Spoiler: she does die, yet she also narrates her death as well as the physical afterness of it where everything is miraculously solved and it is the last minute tradgey: if only she waited just one more second! "[My] funeral is beautiful," she says, not noticing the irony of her own death: "Now that I am dead, they will not have to worry about getting their money back. On the other hand, if they had helped, I could still be alive."

It's an existential comedy in which existence is rather comedic. Life is absurd: events follow one another without linear reasoning, or else shit just happens. The title suggests "breaking free" of such a cycle. The narrator does so. Through her minimalist rambling (yes, quite possible), the narrator is detached from her own existence and pain and is instead concentrated on physicality (as if this the only thing that one can grasp): the math of what it takes to get out of her debt, the half-bottle of ketchup in her fridge, the ultimate heart pains that kills her. Samerkhanova does much to envy in 900 words.

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