by Patrick Wensink
Curbside Splendor Publishing, 2015
How can a town die?
Centralia, Pennsylvania was shut down due to never-ending underground coal fires. It sounds like Cthulu mythos, but go visit. Despite the lush forest growth that has reclaimed almost the entirety of the town, it still smells like burning. Somehow, ash gets inside your lungs.
Henry River Mill Village, North Carolina is for sale after its textile mill closed. You – yes you! – can buy it for just over a million.
Glenville, Deleware ended after a flood and subsequent government buyout.
Kaimu, Hawaii was obliterated by lava.
Clayton, MN died for no reason it all. It just didn’t develop. There are hundreds of others in every state; towns can die in any way. Nuclear disasters. Economic downturn. The end of gold rushes. Because it’s in Kansas. The reasons are nearly limitless.
To the question, “How does a town die?” Patrick Wensink would posit: all of them. When he wrote Fake Fruit Factory, I suspect he had more than a few of those doomed towns in mind. Uncovering which one(s) is part of the fun.
Dyson, Ohio, the setting of Fake Fruit Factory, could be any struggling small town, inhabited by good-hearted Americans. The town is in trouble, everyone agrees on that but how? The mayor has a “Save Dyson” project that seems doomed to fail before it succeeds. The waitress appeals to reality television. The rich schemer has plans of her own; she’s going to buy the town up, bit by bit with future goals on the horizon. Then there’s the former mayor, who, once he meets a foie gras-serving mummy during a suicide attempt, preaches unity as the only salvation.
Only a couple of the townspeople know about the good-deeds performing mummy, they’re too concerned about the campaign to save Dyson. Until, of course, news of the falling space station that threatens to flatten Dyson on impact reaches the townspeople’s ears. And even then, there’s other stories happening all the time, in the background, foreground and every other kind of ground. There’s celebrity to chase after an untimely death afflicts the America’s Most Boringest City. Relationships to navigate. Radio talk show slots to find. Citizens to deputize and cajole into moving statues.
In Fake Fruit Factory it’s clear that even the smallest towns have beating hearts. Patrick Wensink knows that the best way to show a town is to show the town. Everyone gets their voice. The joke-telling bartender and Mr. Mayor are equals and their stories are being told. Because Fake Fruit Factory isn’t about the plot. It’s about how the voice of each person who lives in a place joins every other voice to be a greater part. 1 + 1 + 1 … = infinity. Q.E.D.
Those seeking a straight, slick narrative are advised to look elsewhere. There’s a couple dozen storylines, points of view and narrators, all vying for attention. Sometimes their paths cross and comment upon one another, sometimes they attend to their own agenda off screen. A pad and paper can be helpful for notes and intimidating for a casual reader. But for those who want to gaze deeply, not into the voice, but into a beating heart and the thousand voices inside of it, Fake Fruit Factory offers delight. It moves quickly, jumping from slice-of-life to slice-of-live, rarely giving a view from above to the reader. Plot is gauche, anyway and besides the point.
The point is that pleasure is in the tiny details, in the sordid and sweet relationships that may/may not work, in the grandiose plans that desperation leads us to, in the sickly dark sense of humor (the continuing suicide attempts of the former mayor brings sad chortles) permeating the pages, in frenetic movement and, surprisingly, an underlying sense of hope.
A dust speck on a map might be blown off at any time. It’s happened before and it will happen again. But the dreams, failures, loves and triumphs of the people inhabiting that flyspeck of a town will continue despite all costs. Fake Fruit Factory transports us to a place where we all live, regardless of our actual location. To those who want to find themselves in the pages – warts and pathetic dreams and faded glory and all – and share in a candid (and often kind) image of humanity, this is probably the place.