The Accidental Universe and Other Stories
A Review by Cynthia Conrad
“In a universe of many possible worlds, there is no such thing as right or wrong, good or evil. Only a multitude of choices with unintended consequences.” These words, spoken by an AI-forged “universal intelligence” in the short story, “The Ice Cream Man,” might well describe the center that holds together the remainder of the diverse, short works of fiction in Gerard Marconi’s collection, “The Accidental Universe and Other Stories” published by Apprentice House Press. In it, we meet characters whose circumstances and choices lead them, for better or for worse, inexorably toward a particular destiny. Several of the stories go further to explore the very different destinies of friends, siblings and lovers whose lives once intersected, then diverged.
Several are semi-biographical in that they are written from the viewpoint of the famous (Andrew Wyeth, Paul Cezanne) and infamous (Andy Warhol). Others are regular people, trying their best to contribute to society with whatever skills and intellect they possess. All are bound by the same human foibles — love, lust, loneliness, the longing for something more and regret over what’s been lost. But these aren’t the only things that hold this collection together. Marconi stitches one story to the next with clever placements of repeating elements — it may be a literary quote, a famous work of art, a setting or a thematic concept. As with the infinite variety of the multiverse, each story intersects the other at one or more points, but they each diverge into worlds of their own making.
The stories are also set at different time periods, from the dawn of man to a future that’s just a step sideways from the present. There are one-act plays and even some less conventional forms of fiction peppered between the short stories. They are all equally engaging, and the variety keeps the reader interested in reading on to the next one. Marconi’s writing style introduces another aspect of this variety. From the richly vivid and poetic viewpoint of the artist Paul Cezanne (“A Blank Canvas”), to the colloquial and humorous ramblings of a gravedigger (“Hole in the Ground”), to drier, more factual writing in other instances, Marconi uses a wide stylistic pallet. In one story, “A Leaf Falls,” a tale about unrequited love, one of the characters comments on “what writing is all about” — being “restrained but expressive.” The observation holds true for the story itself.
Among my favorites in this collection of 16 works are the aforementioned “A Blank Canvas,” which allows us to see the world, however briefly, through the eyes of a visionary artist; the thorny matters of conscience and duty in “Male and Female”; and the experimental form of the title story, “The Accidental Universe,” which explores the life and death of three characters from each of their viewpoints, demonstrating how each of us lives in the parallel universes of our own minds.
In his introduction, Marconi writes, “… Recent scientific discoveries … suggest we live in an accidental universe where anything can and will happen, that there are other universes with the same properties, and that human life itself is a random occurrence in the multiverse.” Random as human life can be, and as interconnected as we all are, Marconi neither overwhelms us with the scope of possibility nor does he fall into nihilism. Instead, he chooses to peer closely at a handful of gems he’s mined from the vastness of such a universe and note the ways each catch the light.
“In the face of chaos and disorder, we can value each moment of life as special because it is unpredictable and unique. And we can attempt to share that experience with others, which is the purpose of this book.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Cynthia Conrad is an editor and marketer by trade as well as a poet and songwriter at heart. She was formerly an editor of the independent literary zine Dirigible Journal of Language Art. She has also worked with business author Bruce Tulgan and fiction writer Gevera Bert Piedmont. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut, and is a staff member of BookTrib.
This review originally appeared at BookTrib.