ARBITRARY TALES by Daniel Borzutzky
A review of

Arbitrary Tales

by Daniel Borzutzky

Central question: How experimental can fiction get, and still be fiction?
Format: 130 pp., perfect-bound paperback; Size: 5” x 8”; Price: $15.28; Publisher: Triple Press; Editors: Kathryn Rantala and Deron Bauman; Print run: “small initial run followed by posting as print-on-demand”; Book designer: Deron Bauman; Typeface: Perpetua; Author’s parents are: Chilean Jewish emigres to New York; Author’s poem “Open Letter” included epigraph from: Attorney General John Ashcroft; Representative sentence: “Self knowledge is overrated, said L, who knew enough about himself to know that he did not want to learn more about himself and in fact he wanted to unlearn what he already knew.”

The two-or-three-page prose piece is a peculiar genre for which none of our handful of names—minute fiction, flash fiction, short-short—is convincing. I would like to put forth the term Daisy Duke.

In the last decade or so, the Daisy Duke has become our most flexible genre, and often seems to vaporize poetry and fiction with its endless formal possibility. Indeed, the Daisy Duke’s great subject may be the boundary itself. In his debut collection, Arbitrary Tales (Triple Press), Daniel Borzutzky takes this formal irresolution past even the usual hinterlands, to a kind of no-fly zone, and shows himself to be a true avant-gardist. His eight-page piece called “The Sirens of the Silent City: A Silent Opera” is left-justified, like a poem; divided into three acts, like a play; and begins with the haunting lines “The sirens of the silent city / Sang ‘Oh silent city, convince us / That the song we sing / Is not being sung by us…,” a plaint that inquires whether a people can be other than their actions, or different than the story of their lives, which is fitting when you consider than to the literary object containing this question won’t decide what it is, either.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Adam Novy

Adam Novy teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Read his soccer writing at

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