By Patrick Parks
188 pages, $14.99
Reviewed by Alice Y. Lu
Reading Tucumcari is like stepping into someone else’s lucid dream. Yet it feels like your own dream – something you forgot you had dreamed but now that you’re hearing about the dream again, it feels true: “One morning in June, I wake up and remember I have a wife. I should say I remember believing I have a wife. Why this occurs to me after so long is a mystery.” Patrick Parks’ Tucumcari, out now from KERNPUNKT Press, winds us through a desert road of childhood memories and an imagined road trip to Tucumcari. Tucumcari, of course, is a real city in the New Mexico of our very own world. But in the dystopian envelope of the narrator Mickey’s world, Tucumcari is an oasis – a place where all shall be well.
Tucumcari is a book saturated with the sensation of longing. Mickey, a lonely language teacher in an industrial city of robotic men and factories, believes that if only he were in Tucumcari, he would have happiness. He would have his childhood best friend, Boyd, and his elusive wife, Audrey. These are people he cannot reach in real life. He believes in this longing, just as we as readers believe in our own small and great longings. We know how it feels to want something, to believe that it will make us immeasurably happy. And so we want Mickey to go to Tucumcari. He needs only to drive to his childhood home, find the dying Boyd, and traverse the wilderness to find the Tucumcari of his dreams.
The interplay between the dream world and the real world is effective in the discomfort it creates in the reader. Sometimes believing in something may be enough to make it real. “If I tried hard enough, I could probably predict the future. I could see everything that was going to happen before it happened…” Parks steeps us deep in Mickey’s train of thought, so much so that reading it begins to feel like our own consciousness. The language is first person, present tense, and always fluid. There is a shift in thought every page, or even multiple times a page. The only time a scene (or rather, a thought) is longer is when it tells a story of the past, or a daydream of how the future might go. Parks’ writing takes on the momentum of a busy mind.
Dreaming doesn’t have to make sense, but the reader ultimately becomes aware that Mickey resides in a real world and has a real story to go after. We are never sure, however, what is real and not real, but like Mickey, we want Tucumcari and the road there to be real.
The monomania of a final destination possesses Mickey. In his childhood, his writer mother and veteran father moved frequently from place to place. He is “used to leaving and getting someplace else” but he “still [needs] a reason to get moving…a push to get [him] started. Staying put is easy.” Throughout the entire book, Mickey dreams of moving but stays put. Parks leaves reality ambiguous. Did Mickey get started on the road? Maybe. But more likely, he imagined it.
Mickey gets used to the landscape of daily life. It’s not so bad, after all. Sometimes it’s convenient to stay put and just daydream. But more importantly, a push might break the glass wall between dream and reality. To push forth from reality towards the road of the dream — Tucumcari is to make the dream real and dirty, no matter how it turns out and whether or not it is an oasis. Chances are it is not. Maybe it’s better to keep the wall up. At least you can look through it. At least you can visit through your dreams.
The realness of memories does not matter to Mickey. Neither does the sequence. What is more important to Mickey, Parks, and the reader is the flow of consciousness. The meaning of various memories change – the object itself is not as important as the meaning. The object is always turning, always partially submerged, and so, the clarity of it is never known:
You are not the same person now that you were the last time you remembered whatever it was that you were remembering or think you remembered. The important things are still there, that’s why it’s stuck in your brain anyway, but it might not mean the same things because other things have happened to you, and all of those things together make up a new memory, a new story, which is part of the bigger story of your life.
Mickey’s mother was a writer, and one of the stories ends likes this: “When, in her mind, she traveled beyond the walls of her house, beyond the fence that ran along the road, beyond the fields and the towns, the cities, the oceans, mountains, forests, deserts, she always found herself arriving at her own back door.” Waking myself from the lucid dream of reading Tucumcari, I find that ultimately, I could not control the destination. No reader or dreamer could have.