When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…
the fact of memory: 114 ruminations and fabrications
by Aaron Angello
Rose Metal Press, 2022
reviewed by Seana Graham
The idea for this book came from a writing workshop that the Aaron Angelo attended. The participants were asked to come up with some sort of practice that they could commit to doing every day. Although it was meant to inform the participants’ writing, it did not have to be writing per se. One person drew an object every day. Another walked a particular path.
What Angello did was to choose a Shakespearean sonnet and put each word of it at the top of a separate page. Then every morning he would reflect on that day’s word for a few minutes. “Once I felt filled with that word—as if the word filled my body and not just my mind—I began to write.”
Although Angello says that he is not sure why he picked this particular sonnet and says that another poet’s work (or any other text, for that matter) might have done as well, he does have a history with this one, as it was the first one he learned to recite in school. And it was one he found inspiring as well:
The speaker pulls himself up from the depths of despair by simply thinking of the person he loves. It’s a beautiful, if cliché, sentiment: love is the way out of the dark places. I cherish that idea as fundamental, even at this point in my life.
It’s difficult to pick out or even summarize the whole of a collection featuring 114 short pieces. You can piece together a kind of biography from it, though the author admits in a few places that the part you’ve just read is or may be made up. But to the extent that it is memoir, it’s not a linear one. It’s as though moments of the author’s life, or his impressions of that life, are puzzle pieces that have been cast in a heap on the floor. You can pick up the fragments at random, look at them with curiosity, maybe see how this one fits with another one, or at least where it might go more generally. Or you can just reflect on one as itself.
I’d be hard pressed to pick favorites out of this collection, but some of the most poignant pieces for me were those about brief encounters between strangers, or relative strangers, particularly involving the elderly or the indigent. (I’ll use the page numbers because some of the title words repeat.) Watching a homeless man finding a way to play music with the help of a streetlamp (13). A woman waiting for the subway, singing in solidarity with a stranger who shes sees tapping his feet (50). The narrator staring at an old man’s hands as they sit near each other on a bus (55). The complicated transaction between a man, a waitress and another elderly customer in a Paris cafe (9).
But as I thumbed through to find these again, I was reminded that there are so many other interesting threads and tacks that emerge: thoughts on the nature of memory, thoughts on childhood, thoughts as an older man looking back at being a younger one. No, I can’t summarize it. But you can check out the book trailer from Rose Metal Press to get a fuller flavor of the work:
Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She has also reviewed for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. You can find links to many of her short stories at her blog Story Dump. The recent anthology, Annihilation Radiation from Storgy Press, includes one of her stories. Santa Cruz Noir, a title from Akashic Press, features a story of hers about the city in which she currently resides.