My first thought upon seeing Leyna is that she’s taller. Not that it’s physically possible–when I knew her in grad school we were both in our mid twenties and we’re in our early thirties now, and people don’t tend to grow at our age–but perhaps she stands straighter than the girl I knew: this woman in a soft black blouse instead of a Ramones t-shirt (though I’m sure that shirt is at home). This woman who has penned some of the best short stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and who is on the last stop of her first book tour. Her first of many, I hope.
The stories in I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking deal with a world not quite level with our own, but not so magical that any plot point seems impossible. Strange happenings abound. A tiger is being kept in a suburban neighborhood; a giant squid haunts a wayward trimaran; sea life does its best to escape the sea. The end of the world, we are told, will begin with a series of beeps.
But under these oddities lies a human pulse. A father and son deal with the loss of their wife and mother. A man struggles with the prospect of becoming a father. A woman makes strange connections to bring logic to a world that stopped making sense when her husband left and committed a series of murders.
When I go to a poetry reading, I have one gauge to tell me whether a poem is good (something I actually gleaned from one of Leyna’s close friends in grad school, the beautiful poet Monet Patrice Thomas): it has to make me go, “Mmmm.” I use this test for poetry because I am sometimes lost in the tangle of words; I don’t often need it for fiction because narrative is easier for me to pick apart and follow. And I had no doubt as I was reading that I loved these stories–they’re funny, strange, and so sharply written that I found myself wishing they were my own–but sometimes funny, sharp, and strange provide an amusing facade with nothing behind it. But I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking–well. Every story made me go, “Mmm.”
Even in grad school, when I would have the pleasure of reading or hearing Leyna read one of her stories, I would find myself thinking about it for days. There is no greater compliment in my mind; it means a writer is doing something right.
I’m glad I can say all this in a blog post. It was great to see Leyna at her reading. It was great to meet her husband and her baby and to pinch her baby’s toes. But, like many introverts, I could never say these things in person (and I doubt she’d want me to). I can imagine her reaction if I did: that sideways smile, eyes darting slightly as she chuckled and came up with some self-deprecating joke.
Or maybe I’m wrong. She is taller now, after all.