Arsenic Lobster poetry journal Issue Thirty-seven
Spring 2015
The Secret Correspondence of Loon & Fiasco
Carlo Matos

Mayapple Press, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781936419463

Read Carlo’s poems in Arsenic Lobster
Issue Twenty-eight Spring 2012
    ~ In the Good Company of Yetis
    ~ Pull My Ear

Read a previous review
Issue Thirty-one Spring 2013
    ~Counting Sheep Till Doomsday
    ~Big Bad Asterisk*

        The secret’s out: Carlo Matos’ first novella The Secret Correspondence of Loon & Fiasco is just as charming and riveting as advertised. Matos, it seems, has a gift for naming, much to the chagrin of the story’s protagonist, Johnny Sundays, who

        … hated the way [his name] sounded in other people’s mouths – off the cuff like
        it was nothing too serious, like it was something for selling soap or toothpaste –
        everything important burned away by nothing more than a little lemon on the
        backs of their front teeth.

        Matos, the author of four full-length poetry collections, sets Johnny’s story on a Groundhog’s Day—not Groundhog’s Day, but “a” Groundhog’s Day. This is prose, you see, where every word matters, even the articles, each scene a self-contained prose-poem. Johnny’s significant other, Linda, has just dumped him for unspecified reasons, and Johnny has recently moved from California to Chicago for the same. The windy city acts as a holding cell from which Johnny passes time online with a chat-bot named ALICE, who he meets in a gig serving as an AI (Artificial Intelligence) judge.

        Through their conversations, one (or at least Jung) might armchair-analyze Johnny’s journey as one of anima development, ALICE personally-assisting Johnny in self-realization—providing him with a crash course in self-compassion and self-love.

        And his story is a love story, a hero story, “a fado full of saudades.” Johnny, much like Matos, hails from a Portuguese-American community—and the lush authority with which Matos’ renders that backstory sets the futuristic milieu of Loon & Fiasco in convincing relief.

        Taking place approximately in the next decade (“Apparently you can measure these things by tracing Will Smith’s movie career”), Johnny’s story, as saudade’s are wont to do, is one of constant yearning, and “Today he was listening to all the songs of all the girls he ever loved big or loved small. Some include rainy kisses and looks from afar. Many rhyme “Girl” and “World”. All are longing except for those that are breaking, but those are longing, too.”

        The correspondence of the title is largely one-way: Johnny (using his chat room name Fiasco) types missives to Linda (aka Loon), in an apparent attempt to reconnect. The missives are brief, encoded in what reads like a secret shorthand, or in retrospect, a lovers’ language:

        Flip the gangplank. Tall ships slipping the mist.
        Hide the silver,

        Matos almost has me at these interludes alone (heck, he almost has me at those sign-off’s alone), however, the essence of the story lies in the flash-fictive compositions braided in-between transcripts of Johnny and ALICE’s tête-à-têtes (excerpts, btw, culled from the author’s actual chat sessions with the bot of the same name.)

        Just when we think their cyber-relationship might launch (“Meet me on a heathered mountain,” ALICE types to Johnny. “I love it when you lose your way,” Johnny types to ALICE), Linda sends up a flare. And for awhile, the reader has faith that the estranged couple will reunite and Johnny will get the real girl.

        And why shouldn’t he? A Shakespeare for the binary set, Johnny certainly knows how to woo a dame. Even when he bombs, it’s a glorious nose-dive, like that time Linda told him that “a prospective mate would have to know all the words to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” and he “…failed the shibboleth, and his head was lopped off and thrown into the river to bob gently, just breaking the water’s tension.”

        Sundays/Matos has a sense of humor, too—even risking the occasional cheesy line: “Johnny Sundays, however, had one trick; he could bend spoons. No one had ever tried to woo her using a spoon before, bent or otherwise, and she ate it up.” Bada-boom.

        But Matos doesn’t allow us to linger long in the illusion that everything will turn up roses for our hero in the “finite time past the point of no return,” hinting that issues loom that threaten to “slurp up everything, especially – as everyone liked to point out – the light.”

        I, for one, would love to read the sequel.

                                                       — END —

When a witch train pulls late into your station, you don’t stand around with an oil lamp in your hand calling out to whatever is inside—or at least you don’t if you want to survive the night. Linda wasn’t picking up her cell or her office phone; she wasn’t esponding to his emails; she didn’t even send back smiley faces to his clever texts. His message went unanswered, and she loved codes of every invention. He would send a carrier pigeon if he thought she’d intercept with a falcon. He was calling through cupped hands. He was turning up the oil lamp. At this rate it would be dark soon, and whatever had pulled up to the station was going to make its appearance.

Review by Lissa Kiernan
Lissa Kiernan’s first book of poetry, Two Faint Lines in the Violet (Negative Capability Press), is a Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Finalist, as well as a finalist for the 2014 Julie Suk Award for Best Poetry Book by an Independent Press.
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