BRETT BIEBEL’S 48 BLITZ
Resistance and Rupture in Brett Biebel's 48 Blitz: A Review by Amanda Dolan
I’ve always been terrified of drowning. This fear is largely (of course) because of the death part, but also those moments of struggle in which a person loses their bearings and continuously collides with the surrounding molecules. Every character in Brett Biebel’s collection of short fiction, 48 Blitz is treading water. Some of these people are more buoyant than others, but they all struggle to acclimate and, like linebackers attempting to propel themselves through a sea of blockers, get enveloped either by circumstances or other narratives before bobbing back to the surface in later pieces.
Resistance—whether in the form of water, religion, a blocker, a vehicle, gravity, or antiquated mindsets—pervades this collection, which appropriately begins with Willa Cather’s claim that “the only thing very noticeable about Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska.” The levels in which this resistance becomes visible as both a physical and psychological force are as numerous as the layers of mismatched histories that define the Midwest. For example, the often mentioned Miller High Life seems to promise a high ground of sorts, but, instead, the beverage regularly inundates in a way that parallels the Platte River in “A Rising Tide.” This alcoholic downer posing as an energizer is regularly paired with coffee in these stories, contributing to the ambiguous momentum that’s a prominent thread throughout the book as characters allude to Sisyphus and share insights like “some folks always stride that line between falling and flying and so on.”
48 Blitz’s Nebraska and its people meet resistance not only through various forms of inundation, but also maceration and excoriation. The former makes itself known as characters cope with football related injuries, observe the large number of carcasses on the roads of their state, and worry about both infrastructure fragility and soil erosion. The latter (excoriation) appears as characters detail anxieties about removing bones and regularly discuss the death penalty. Of the excoriation stories, I found “Message to the Grassroots,” a piece in which a teenager is forced to incarnate an entire town’s guilt over the death of a child, to be the meatiest. This is not only because it involves a deadly hamburger and appears in Issue 14 of Miracle Monocle—it’s immensely thought-provoking in how it echoes the argument that public excoriation is primarily a grassroots phenomenon but still reveals how instrumental to capitalism the practice can be. Essentially, this is another story in which paradox, like the inundating nature of a High Life, takes centerfield and offers a way to navigate the Nebraska that “went and turned into a big empty middle.”
The three processes (inundation, maceration, and excoriation) that I’ve used to kind of mark these stories are, according to Google anyway, often presented as dermatological and superficial. But Biebel’s book consistently proves that topography and culture are inextricably intertwined as it points out missiles buried in the prairie and tangibly tackles displacement and spatial uncertainty. The third story, “How to Live Forever,” is a memorable example: a man quietly becoming part of the dirt in death might allow him to remain immortal.
Consequently, navigating this Nebraska becomes precarious. The stories become more mysterious and full of parenthetical asides leading up to a very noticeable temporal rupture. But this apparent anachronism that occurs only after the narratives get more vaporous serves to paint a more complete image of the highly palimpsestic Midwest. This refusal to let the future supersede these personal histories by including a snippet from it within the actual collection exacerbates the resistance already demonstrated by all the characters that resurface after being pushed below other narratives. Despite the amount of tension here, I was ultimately left feeling a bit hopeful, as though the resistance and like-alwaysness introduced in Willa Cather’s quote was not entirely responsible for stagnation, but recovery. The collection is, of course, a tad cautionary and a tad sardonic (often in a very humorous way), but the last story, “Luisa,” is hopeful in how it suggests that even if we can’t be together physically/share a time and a space, we can still be together psychically. Yes, destitution (whether topographic or systematically caused or both) is a big thing here, but the collection ends noting that a degree of recovery is always a possibility through the resistant nature of stories, memories, and dreams. In the end, 48 Blitz reminds me that there does exist a type of tension that lets us float rather than sink—and I recommend the collection for those who could use a similar reminder chased with a bit of strangeness.