Anita Felicelli’s short fiction collection Love Songs for a Lost Continent (Stillhouse Press, 2018) features a rotation of loosely-linked characters. The stories rotate through their very different worlds and perspectives, but are tied together by an awareness of loss. Each single story is so selfish, so insular, so consumed by the heart of that character– yet in the next story, the heart of a minor character comes to life. They are so close in proximity to one another, yet so far away. The epigraph for the collection is from Proust: “The only true paradise is paradise lost.” Perhaps this is paradise lost: the concept that humans are so close to each other yet so lonely. Each human in Love Songs for a Lost Continent treks through a different world, and the circles only briefly overlap.
What is certain in each story is the uncertainty of a lost continent. Each story features a character who half-heartedly daydreams of a true destiny. They are not where they thought they would be in life. Things have not happened the way they, their parents, and their culture imagines it should have. In “Deception,” the opening story, “Sita’s family married her to a Bengal tiger. When her parents had arranged the marriage, she was revolted.” This is a fable of a marriage, something like two circles briefly overlapping. They are two worlds, but yes, she was happy for a while – “He recited poetry….He read the books she recommended, even the British murder mystery novels, discussing why the clues didn’t quite add up or marveling at the skillfulness of the author’s plotting.” There is gossip from the community, not only targeted at the human family, but also at the tiger’s: “what sort of family Sita must have had, to marry her to a tiger, and what sort of family the dead tiger must have had, to marry him off to a Brahmin girl.” Destiny is not always determined by one’s self. There is an outside world to contend with.
Sometimes what is lost in these stories is nameless, so foreign a sensation, that it refuses to be named. In “Elephants in the Pink City,” a second-generation Indian American boy associates a scent from another world – elephants – with his first sexual experience. In the titular, “Love Songs for a Lost Continent,” a second-generation man from Silicon Valley finds himself unable to bridge the gap between his love interest and the “lost continent.”
The characters have varying relationships to race and migration and all the complexities that come with it. Felicelli tells stories of those subject to bigotry and the bigots themselves, from an Indian woman in a relationship with a man descended (literally) from colonizers, from a second-generation girl born of parents of two different castes, and from her first-generation cousin trying to make it as a model in New York City. Both young women ultimately bring some sort of shame to their families – one becomes a mother out of wedlock; another loses her beauty and sanity.
It is wonderful to have a collection like Love Songs for a Lost Continent out. While there is a focus on race, it is not so much that the stories hinge on the character’s relation to race, migration, or of being a minority. Rather, race is a thread in the cloth. The cast of characters experience racism, and some even perpetrate racism – we know all of them intimately. These are human stories that just so happen to involve a relationship to a lost continent.
One feels deeply unsettled upon reading the short stories in Love Songs for a Lost Continent. We commiserate with the characters, with their sense of loss. When you leave a lost continent, you enter a new world, yet you still feel like the same self. However, if you try to return to the lost continent, you will not find it as it was before – not because the lost continent has changed, but because you yourself have unknowingly changed. The characters in Love Songs for a Lost Continent are decidedly fluid people. They are always changing their minds, their stories, their desires.