Hi readers! Join our spring interns as they look through 45 years of our publication history and share their passion for some of their favorite BOA titles. In this post, Amelia shares about the book Gravity Changes by Zach Powers.
Hello everyone! I’m Amelia, one of BOA’s Spring ‘22 interns. I’ll be graduating from MCC with my associate’s in Creative Writing this spring, and I plan to transfer to a 4-year college for writing in the fall. As someone who hopes to eventually publish her own books, working with the BOA team has been invaluable in learning about what goes on “behind the scenes” in publishing. I spend a lot of my time at home reading, and it’s wonderful to be exposed to genres of writing at BOA, short fiction and poetry, that don't usually find their way onto my shelves at home.
One of the many BOA titles I’ve read (in manuscript or published form) is Gravity Changes by Zach Powers. When I sat down to write this blog post, I had an extremely difficult time narrowing down my list of quotes because there were just so many I wanted to share with you all. Gravity Changes is a funny, quirky, perplexing journey into childhood, nostalgia, and the processes of growing up, viewed through the eyes of both children and adults.
Throughout the collection, Powers weaves in subtle metaphors that delve into the intricacies of leaving childhood behind—or in choosing not to. He charms the reader with scenes that stretch the bonds of realism, then juxtaposes these scenes with serious and profound reflection underneath an accessible and compelling metaphor. For example, in “When As Children We Acted Memorably,” the narrator and his friends discover they can teleport through the bottom of their swimming pool into a mysterious cabin with anachronistic furniture and a door that won’t open. The narrator’s friends eventually find their way through the door, but he chooses to stay behind:
I closed the door and twisted the lock. They would not be back, I was sure of that. I sealed the cabin, pulled the blinds, feeling the whole time very much like I was burying myself. (77)
This heartbreaking metaphor represents the narrator’s reluctant crossing into “maturity.” Layered underneath the overarching metaphor—the cabin through the swimming pool—it succinctly relates the narrator locking the doors and closing the blinds to allowing friends to slip away as life goes on—“They would not be back.” This simple metaphor also translates the feeling of moving on into something comprehensible, of leaving your old friends behind and growing into a person with different preferences, experiences, and ideas. The narrator feels like he is “burying” himself, in other words relinquishing the emotional ties that were once so important to him, causing the death of his child-self in the process. By letting go of his friends, he’s letting go of the person he was with them.
Each of Powers’s stories involves an aspect of growing up, a pattern of innocence, or childhood nostalgia. The collection is about growing up under the surface, but it’s also not about growing up. Instead, it’s about shrinking the universe one song at a time, what movie actors do on their lunch breaks, and people with their guilt plastered in writing on their foreheads. Powers’s metaphors encourage interpretation and reflection. It’s a book that gets you to think.
On another level, Powers’s prose is shot through with startlingly clear pictures of people going about their ordinary lives in small nuggets of language that surprise you. It’s a bit like sifting through a pile of fruit-flavored candy and finding an unexpected KitKat in the mix—something to savor and enjoy. These moments present a wry social commentary illustrated by metaphor and gentle satire. For example, “Joan Plays Power Ballads With Slightly Revised Lyrics” is a story about a man trying to understand his wife’s compulsive need to make the universe smaller by bringing the infinite possible versions of something into existence. The narrator references his wife’s musical exploits in this comment to their taxi driver, but seems to intimate much more than that:
I make a joke about singing too much, doing everything too much, but he doesn’t understand. I wonder if I understand it myself. (30)
Powers’s stories are full of moments that speak to more than just the particular situations the characters are experiencing. They present often cynical ways of looking at people as a whole that surprise, delight, and inspire healthy contemplation. The narrator says his wife is doing too much, but in expressing this, the story also comments on society in general, how people pack their days with things, things, and more things to the point of exhaustion. These interwoven themes add yet another layer to Powers’s writing, and are also enmeshed in the main theme of growing up explored subtly in each story. In this example from “Use Your Spoon,” the narrator, who has the ability to work miracles, is sitting with his lab partner, the girl he likes, in biology class.
I poked our dead frog with the metal probe, as if trying to wake it from a nap. I wanted its eyes to snap open. I wanted its tongue to flick out as it yawned away murky dreams. I wanted Natalie to remain innocent in her like of frogs. What more did she need to know than their hopping? (82)
Now, imagine Powers isn’t talking about frogs in biology class. Imagine he’s talking about people. What more does Natalie need to know than their hopping, their everyday fuss and bother? Don’t we all yawn away murky dreams at every missed opportunity? The narrator in “Use Your Spoon” wants to protect Natalie from the harsh reality of death, even in something as small as a lab frog. But everything has to die eventually, including people, and this is a truth we cannot hide from forever. Innocence features frequently in this collection as a loss or as something long held on to, and Powers capitalizes on moments like these to develop and add depth to the grand theme of where childhood ends and how childhood is reflected in adults, adeptly weaving together childhood experience and more adult themes, like death, disillusionment, and longing for simpler times.
Here is perhaps my favorite moment in the collection, also from “Use Your Spoon”:
“Can you make me feel love?” she asked.
I looked into her eyes but nothing happened.
“I guess not,” she said.
Her eyes were very blue and beautiful” (83)
This moment is ironic and funny in its strangeness, but this poor kid just wants Natalie to like him and his magical miracle-working powers don’t kick in when it matters. How many of us have ever felt like we can’t do anything right? I pulled this conversation for three reasons. One, it highlights the absurdity and wry humor ever-present in Powers’s stories. The narrator wants Natalie to “feel love,” but she remains completely oblivious to his attempt. Two, it demonstrates the seriousness, depth, and breadth of topics explored throughout the collection in relation to childhood and where growing up can lead you. We can empathize with the narrator because we can imagine what it’s like to be in his shoes, waiting to be noticed, waiting for love without finding it. And three, it’s an excellent example of the typical short and direct sentences that characterize Powers’s writing. Each sentence is crafted to cut right to the point without any distraction, enhancing the humor in these stories with singular wit and character.
In addition, interspersed throughout are long, intricate sentences that capture a unique and precise feeling, concept, or sensory detail. Consider this example from “When as Children We Acted Memorably,” the story about the narrator and his friends, Ricky and Lindsay, teleporting through the bottom of the pool:
The scent of cigars, over-pungent to the undeveloped sinuses of a child, followed Ricky’s father like an olfactory shadow. (62)
In this excerpt, we can almost see the heavy, smoke-scented cloud that follows Ricky’s father and feel it drifting past us, even though it’s something that should be invisible. Powers’s sentences are at once vibrant and expansive, yet wonderfully concise. Combined, these two sentence styles are compelling and evocative, perfectly suited for the strange situations these characters explore. The humor expressed in these stories serves the multifaceted purpose of making us not think of ourselves so seriously, while simultaneously acting as a conduit for exploring the real and profound conundrums expressed in each story.
At the heart of Gravity Changes lies the question, “What does it mean to grow up, and do any of us ever truly make it there?” Though never explicitly stated, this collection made me reflect on the answer and contemplate my own progress in “growing up.” How much of a child still lives inside any of us? Can we hold onto child-like innocence in this harsh world, or do we have to let it go? What might the world be like if we let ourselves get in touch with the child within? I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the story “Gravity Changes”:
Play in the mud and dirty your clothes, children. Press flat. Stay low. (9)
Amelia A. is a Spring '22 intern at BOA. She will be graduating from Monroe Community College with an associate degree in Creative Writing this spring, and plans to transfer to a 4-year college to continue developing her writing. On the weekends, she spends her time reading, crocheting, and painting pet portraits on commission.