There’s an art to the arrangement of words and images in “The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far,” Quintan Ana Wikswo’s new collection. It’s more than the way authors like W.G. Sebald, Jesse Ball and Teju Cole have used photographs to punctuate and accentuate the narratives they write; there’s a sense of collage here, of the images being used to state things where words no longer suffice.
At times, these images aid in cementing the setting: Haunting images of trees, sometimes merged with other landscapes, and sometimes shot in a way that inspires dread, make the sense of place in Wikswo’s stories seem even fuller. At others, they slide into sharp coherence, making Wikswo’s sometimes surreal imagery eminently tactile.
The opening story lays the groundwork for what’s to come. “The Cartographer’s Korovod” — the title is a reference to a kind of Slavic folk dance — establishes a correspondence between the narrator and a woman. The exact nature of their relationship seems to fluctuate over the course of the story. Sometimes their realm seems academic; at other times, it seems domestic; and in others, it is laced with espionage.
The last of those does not represent the only time that historical legacies come into play here: References to Baltic states and gut-wrenching moments in European history are made in several stories. Some of the stories involve more surreal imagery: “The Anguillidae Eater” is one of a few stories where humans producing eggs is a prominent image.
Even when she isn’t creating disorienting narratives, Wikswo can write an immensely evocative sentence: “One of those weary bleached afternoons that pretends to be a dawn,” for instance. Her use of sparse prose — some pages contain only a few sentences — and her shifts into hallucinatory images would make this a compelling enough read on its own. But she pushes even further: The penultimate story in the collection, “Cap Arcona,” revisits the egg motif and incorporates transformations that seem borrowed from mythology, but also delves into a particular moment in European history.
It’s here, near the end of the book, that her interest in historical events and her penchant for the logic of legends and dreams collide. What had previously been compelling in its imagery and its contrasts suddenly came together in new and resonant ways. In this mysterious work, Wikswo has found a new way to dramatize historical horrors and ambiguities.
Tobias Carroll is managing editor of Vol. 1 Brooklyn.