Impossible Princess

By Kevin Killian. City Lights, $15.95 paperback.

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Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

A member of the loosely defined New Narrative movement, which also includes Dennis Cooper and Dodie Bellamy, fiction writer Kevin Killian tends to experiment with traditional storytelling forms and to defy quick categorization. Still, Killian’s specific talent has been his ability to create affable protagonists and to make the reader feel welcome, even as his stories boldly confront explicit sexual scenarios. In his latest collection, Impossible Princess, the author continues to approach the audience with an inclusive charm. His narrators directly address the readers, and patiently guide them through a series of fantastically unexpected situations that blur boundaries between fact and fiction, porn and erotica, gay and straight. “In writing, does one set down one’s personal experience and hope that it strikes a universal chord in everyone?” asks a character named (as many here are) Kevin Killian, a writer hopelessly in love and, by way of his quick wit, utterly lovable.

Unlike story collections that circle a set of themes, Impossible Princess boldly wanders. The personal experiences depicted in this collection range from the familiar (a gay love affair between married men) to the truly bizarre (in “Zoo Story,” a man aroused by cats is ravaged by a pack of panthers). Form, too, runs the gamut here. The gory S&M tale “Spurt” shifts from a third-person perspective to second, then to first, all in a span of five lines.

In the past, Killian has organized entire books around cultural figures including filmmaker Dario Argento and pop star Kylie Minogue, and many of Impossible Princess’s stories pull from pop culture and current events. One romance is threaded through with the perspective of Mark Bingham, the gay activist believed to have been among the passengers who attempted to storm the cockpit of Flight 93 during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Whatever his subject matter, Killian maintains full authority—offering up a homoerotic interpretation of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” and a brilliant imagined history of Hank Williams. Here, under the author’s careful control and easygoing charisma, everything seems up for grabs, and almost anything seems possible.—Kimberly King Parsons

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