by Michael Kimball
from Mud Luscious Press, 2013
Guest review by Melanie Page
Michael Kimball’s fiction has never failed to break my heart. Never. I go in feeling like I know what sadness is and come out feeling like I’ve never understood humans--that’s how much Kimball has to teach. But his postcard project is non-fiction. The postcard project started when Kimball was waiting his turn to read at a performance festival and his friend encouraged him to write the life stories of strangers just small enough to fit on postcards. There are none too young nor old to be interviewed, nor is the life story of any person too “normal” or “uneventful.”
Michael Kimball is a Facebook friend of mine. We’ve never met in person, nor do I remember how we became Facebook friends. I do remember, though, seeing his blog post updates of the postcard life stories and being jealous that a cool writer had taken time out of his day to explore strangers’ lives. What made them so special? I joked in the comments that I wanted my life story on a postcard, and Kimball agreed. I declined, thinking I wasn’t postcard material. This collection teaches me I was wrong: “I wrote one for anybody who wanted one,” Kimball explains. “I didn’t want anybody to feel their life story wasn’t interesting enough.”
In his introduction to the postcard project, Kimball explains that he grew as a person because he came into contact with so many who admitted personal thoughts and experiences that they’d never told anyone. People discuss adoption, love, addiction, homelessness, coming out, and religion. All of the postcards collected here (there were over 300, but not everyone wanted them shared) feel vitally important, and Kimball notes the responsibility of being the one releasing these stories and writing them correctly (stories are gathered interview-style first and then condensed). Not every story is decades of turbulence, but many feel internally feel chaotic despite what they label “good childhoods.”
This book was so hard to put down. I’d only heard of 2-3 people about whom Kimball wrote (including himself), but because an entire lifetime is condensed to postcard size (a practice Kimball feels helped his fiction writing, especially when he could skip 10 years in one sentence), it was like watching tiny movies. The “treat” at the end of each postcard was the update. These are completely unpredictable because they aren’t fabricated. One postcard might claim that the individual met the love of his life who changed him forever and he can’t imagine living without her only to reveal in the update they’ve parted ways. Or had a child. Some who have had highly traumatic experiences are updated as positive, content individuals while others have since passed away as a result of suicide or illness. A huge responsibility, indeed.
Melanie Page is a MFA graduate, adjunct instructor, and recent founder of Grab the Lapels, a site that only reviews books written by women (www.grabthelapels.weebly.com).