Begat Who Begat Who Begat
Astrophil Press, November 2021
Begat Who Begat Who Begat is a collection of short stories about parenthood with a perspective on the fractal nature of overlapping genetic roles: of being both parent and child. Pactor explores lineage and familial ties by weaving otherworldly and dreamlike elements into the mundane everyday. His skill with the surreal distinguishes this work from many other books about family relationships. A Freudian could have a field day with this collection, but so could anyone interested in work that challenges readers through experimentation in form, imagery, and language.
While other family members feature as characters in these stories, the two most important relationships are where the narrator interacts with a father or with a daughter. For these narrators, the father tends to function as a reflection while the daughter represents the radically Other; both are contiguous and yet somehow still foreign. In the stories “Harvest” and “Do the Fish,” the narrator understands the daughter by juxtaposing her with robots and AI. This comparison is not so much a ‘real world vs. made world’ dichotomy the narrative tries to espouse, as it is a construct the father uses to distance himself from his daughter’s sexuality. The narrator often wants to ‘save’ the daughter from herself and her desires, but these impulses tell us more about the father’s insecurities than it does about her.
The memories (real or imagined) of a father figure function similarly. In many stories, the father is a flawed individual, failing professionally or running over the dog with the family car or leaving a child behind. Despite these shortcomings, the narrator in each story still holds a deep love and respect for the father figure. His anger, sadness and devotion towards this parent live all together in him. At different points, the narrator’s memories of his father are mixed, but overall they carry a heavy sadness. Several times, the narrator acknowledges how imprecise and distorted his recollections might be, implying that there was a greatness there that he has simply forgotten. In “Archaeology of Dad,” the text literally reflects the father’s descent from glory as well as the imperfect memories of his child with large black holes, voids that the narrator tries to fill in with his own story. Fathers and daughters come to matter less as individual characters and more as presences or absences that the narrator uses to understand and to complete his own life story.
Pactor’s writing has a Charlie Kaufman sadness and worry as well as unconventional narratives of Can Xue. Particular gems in this collection include: “Harvest,” “Archaeology of Dad,” and “The Remainder”. If you like Diane Williams or Jorge Luis Borges and if you don’t mind reading something that will make you think about your own family dynamics, you’ll enjoy this inventive and bittersweet collection.
Jesi Buell is an artist from upstate New York. Under the name Jesi Bender, she helms KERNPUNKT Press, a home for experimental writing. She is the author of KINDERKRANKENHAUS (Sagging Meniscus 2021) and The Book of the Last Word (Whiskey Tit 2019). Her shorter writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Split Lip, Adroit Journal, and others. www.jesibender.com