Critically View on The Villagers

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A playful, brutal, dreamy and sticky slideshow of fables and images, told with the Ironic Charm of a spontaneous bedtime story

The Villagers is a collection of short stories (and one or two poems) by Derek Owens, written in response to a collection of paper collages of the same name by Caroline Golden in 2009. For each Piece of Writing, there is a visual counterpart composed of extracts of everyday objects arranged in such a way that the viewer can only anthropomorphize these foreign constructions into humans, with personalities and life stories waiting to be revealed.

The stories ripple sideways like fairy tales, sway back and forth like a wandering grandparent, twinkle like a silver-tongued incubus whispering in your ear at night. Each story revolves around a different Collage of “villagers” with names ranging from the normal (“the sailor”) to the cosmic (“the king of the Moon”). Some of the fables wrap around dark corners of reality, the air is heavy with esotericism reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges (especially “the Notetaker”), and others jump from the sides into neon chaos to make Alice’s adventures in Wonderland calm in comparison. The fact is that the stories are varied and that each new episode brings a new mood and a new rhythm without finding a Moment of predictability or stale that accompanies a new villager in the light long enough for us to see what unexpected life Owens breathed into them.

A first great success of the collection is that it avoids the haughty feeling that can often creep into mixed media work. Instead, Owens’s literary reactions to Golden’s collages retain a modest play that constantly leaves the reader guessing and investing entirely. As soon as I had finished a story, I would already have the hook for the next one in me, insatiable curious to know who would be the next villager and what world would be put in front of my eyes. Golden’s collages are as much a part of this anticipation as the stories. In turn, the artist and the author manage to captivate the reader-viewer, and the Moment they say goodbye to one villager, they can’t wait to meet the next, Golden’s collages serving as a springboard to launch into imaginative worlds.

The great diversity between the stories makes this short work much larger than it seems to be in its 140 pages. The Tone plunges into the Macabre (“The reliquary”), only to ascend into something psychedelic (“The Gardener”) without any of the stories fitting into a single labeled box, and almost all the spaces in between are filled by one of the other villagers, who together occupy an expanse of style and Tone that compensates for any loss of narrative cohesion by pure novelty. This constant ability to keep the reader on his toes (or simply surprise him) is maintained throughout the project and is a fabulous feat of creativity.

This collection is intended for everyone who has ever laid down on a grassy hill and concocted stories based on the shapes of passing clouds. But with their more experimental leanings, the stories deviate from traditional structures or plots, although this cannot affect my joy. The characters, in all their wild traps, find their attraction less in the fact of being rounded than in their uniqueness, through the always unpredictable twists that Owens’ mind would take to give life to the wonderful collages of Golden’s.

A line from one of Owens’ stories, “the Courier,” captures much of my feelings for the collection. In other words, “everything is no longer exponential, but post-hyper-exponential.”The stories multiply in all imaginable directions, taking you to places a step away from ordinary logic and to worlds far from ours for an unforgettable ride. The Villagers are a small collection that conceals an expanse inside, waiting for the right reader to come and watch with wide eyes while the play unfolds.

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