“This is meant to be the story of all lives, though I’m talking about one in particular,” Lisicky writes, and if the goal of Unbuilt Projects is “to be the story of all lives,” Lisicky has succeeded. Adept at harnessing the highs of life that are ruthlessly countered by lows— “see how the plants grow. And die a little”—these pieces are anchored by truths and by Truth. With an aptitude for creating vivid scenes, Lisicky envelops us in his stories, so though we did not stand under “The sky so scrubbed with stars it hurts,” it is as if we did.
We encounter a collision of God, sex, family, childhood and adulthood within the realm of these short fiction pieces, and we encounter the palpable pain of the speaker as he mourns a mother lost to dementia: “Who knew you were the ground we walked on, dreamed on?” Through the intersection of these varied themes, we are made privy to the speaker’s interior world—“And all I can say, today, is Joy, visit me now”—as well as made witness to the exterior world—“Sun on skin, hot gold light frying the hydrangea.” Ultimately, these stories give us everything, and so we are left wanting nothing, except more.
From “The Roofers,” from Unbuilt Projects:
I think I might be seeing what I want to see. I think I still want to believe in the God of my
childhood, who was reminded, in song, that he’d champion the peacemaker. I think I don’t
want to hear the military plane on its daily route just over the beach. I don’t even want to
know about the deer who stepped up to the stranger for a bite of his apple today. First he fed
him half his apple, the roofer mutters, and then he shot him in the head. Sun on the floor.
Tang of smoke in the nose and the eye. I freeze, as if the ghost of that animal’s slipped in and
out of the house, before I catch myself edging forward on the seat. A part of me wants more:
death, death, the low, delicious word, whispered to me through night.
“Stories, like bodies, lean into each other, entwine and complicate each juncture of the new century in Paul Lisicky’s Unbuilt Projects. With brief, electric sentences (for isn’t that how we communicate in the 21st century?) of consummate beauty, Lisicky starts out from the joy in childhood and relates the sad and wondrous details of intimacies both familial and romantic that occur ‘sometime between that time and where we are now.’ If there’s a place for poetry and prose to co-habitate, it’s here in Lisicky’s world: under the snowy rooftops and inside the empty rooms of apartments built, unbuilt, and destroyed. ‘The songs are blue and glistening.’ And they build.” —D. A. Powell
“I’ve always liked Paul Lisicky’s work, its integrity and haunted memories. His clean, comfortable prose always manages to break your heart for he has the diviner’s gift for finding the wellsprings of quiet sorrows.” —Joy Williams