A review of

At the Damascus Gate

by Elana Greenfield

Central question: Are hallucinations the antidote for a reality-obsessed culture?
Format: 116 pp., paperback; Size: 6” x 4-1/4”; Print run: 1,000; Price: $10.95; Editor: Per Bregne; Book designer: Per Bregne; Publisher: Green Integer; Typography: Kim Silva; Time spent writing: three years; Time it took to decide on the stories’ order: one month; Age at which author wrote her first book of poems: six; Adjective that best describes those poems: Kerouacian; Author’s migraine symptoms: auras, but no pain; Representative sentence: “He touched her hair, he noticed the spot on the crown of her head where the world had landed.”

With the possible exception of St. Augustine, the most famous conversion story in the history of Christianity is that of Saul of Tarsus. Saul, an overzealous rabbi, asks to visit Damascus in order to round up Christian converts and bring them to Jerusalem. Jesus appears to Saul and asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Blinded for three days by the vision, Saul converts, eventually changes his name to Paul, and spends the rest of his life as the thirteenth apostle, talking up Christianity to everyone he meets. Taken as metaphor, Saul’s transformation suggests the necessity of becoming blind to the material world in order to “see” the spiritual path.

Reading Elana Greenfield’s collection of genre-blurring stories, At the Damascus Gate: Short Hallucinations—a book that evokes Kafka, Calvino, and Schnitzler among others—requires a similar leap of faith. The book’s consciousness exists in the regions between three binaries: alive/dead; awake/asleep; native/foreign, and it is necessary to transcend notions of conventional narrative in order to dwell in the book’s possibilities. When a soldier’s heart is reincarnated as a parachute (in Greenfield’s story “The Soldier’s Dream”) as he visits a narcoleptic spirit guide who leads him to the children he may or may not have fathered, it’s easier to accept in the way that a dream allows for ruptures in narrative as if they were logical occurrences.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Christopher Kennedy

Christopher Kennedy is the author of Trouble with the Machine and Nietzsche’s Horse. One of the founding editors of 3rd Bed, he is the director of the MFA Program in creative writing at Syracuse University.

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