Reviews

A City Made of Words Paul Park

If you’re like me, you might think that reading dystopian fiction is hardly necessary these days, what with the Incels, children in cages, and the rapid expansion of shanty town style tent communities in the most affluent cities in the country. But Paul Park’s excellent collection of stories A City Made of Words is a refreshingly trenchant take on the genre.

Part dystopia, part “literary metafiction” the stories in this collection straddle some interesting realms. Yes, some are about Mars and climate change, but others are a glimpse behind the curtain of the writer’s craft. In “A Conversation with the Author”, Park’s narrator—himself a graduate of an expensive Midwestern MFA program—interviews an author, who teaches writing to undergraduate students. He says, “(the author) was someone we’d picked up during one of our sweeps of the docks. He’d been apprehended lurking underneath the pier and then relocated to a camp for displaced persons. Now we’d brought him in for questioning.” The narrator interviews the writer— who is seated in a wheelchair with his arms strapped in plastic restraints—and proceeds to argue with him about the value of the traditional fiction writing workshop. It is a very weird story, shifting between critique of MFA programs and a depiction of some kind of totalitarian regime. The author has insightful things to say about the colonialist—even white supremacist—assumptions behind writing instruction, and offers a series of ideas for an entirely new course of study. It is never quite clear whether Park himself is the writer, the interrogator, or both. Or neither.

Other stories in the collection are equally original, well-written and humorous. Each is filled with cool ideas, perspicacious social commentary, and seems to explode the boundaries that constrain sci-fi and speculative fiction. A great, refreshing read.