Book Review: Uno Kudo, Vol. 4

You know that art is affecting you when you can’t turn away from it. You view it, and it holds your attention. You squint, adjust your head, and just gaze. You get lost inside it. Such was experience in reading Uno Kudo, Vol. 4.

The latest edition of Uno Kudo is a stunning piece of work. It combines short stories, poetry, and visual art in ways that are mystical, yet somehow grounded in the ordinary.

“Sticky,” the opening story by Bobby Fischer, is a devastatingly haunting story of childhood, adulthood, and the borders of humanness. A couple, Albert and Millie, jump on an elevator to rescue a boy who they recognize as a neighbor. Their interaction with the boy is far from what you might expect, especially when the boy soon reveals that he is “a six-hundred-and-sixteen-year-old alien from outer-space with psychometric clairvoyant talents.” Things get frightening quickly, and the ending packs quite the punch. This story, alone, is exceptional, but the accompanying art by Liz Steketee gives heft to the piece. Steketee’s luminous images of a young boy undergoing physical transformations are breathtaking. The colors blend, and the crispness gives the overall narrative a strong consistency.

Another one of the most imaginative pieces is Quincy Rhoads’ “6 Ways to Look at a Stuffed Porcupine.” In Rhoads’ work, a man deals with the actions of his girlfriend and her stuffed porcupine, whose name is Apricot. Apricot is a demanding porcupine, insisting on what the boyfriend should do and when he should do it. Apricot hangs from the ceiling and enjoys the taste of a delicious toaster strudel. Things get bad for the boyfriend when Apricot gets too demanding. Finally, though, love wins out, and the boyfriend learns that he’s going to have to make some sacrifices if he’s going to get what he wants—or maybe the girlfriend is really the one who is sacrificing. It’s a layered and mysterious piece.

Rhoads’ narrative is smart and sly, slowly unraveling to its meticulously crafted ending. He creates an eccentric situation that is troubling, yet humorous. “6 Ways to Look at a Stuffed Porcupine” is my favorite of the entire volume.

While Uno Kudo loves the fantastical aspects of life, it also displays moments of quite sincerity. These pieces are just as strong, too.

Namira Shameem’s “Songs and a Smile” is about a man facing chemo treatments. He’s weak, but he’s determined—even hopeful. Knowing his current state, he still refers to himself as being “considerably lucky.” Clearly, the protagonist is a man who sees life as a gift. He values music, especially the records his late grandmother gave him. We get a sense that she, too, valued life. Our nameless man remembers advice his grandmother gave him: “There’s always something to be grateful about. Happiness is not the absence of problems; it’s the ability to deal with them. You just need courage.” What a refreshing perspective Shameem brings here. Too often, literature explores the realm of natural cynicism.

The poetry featured in Uno Kudo’s latest installment also possesses much complexity. Joe Saldibar’s “Day Planner” about great obstacles and achievement is exceptional, as is Michael Gillan Maxwell’s “Launching Pad,” which reflects on the passage from life to death.

The aesthetic value at work here is mammoth. Chen-Dao Lee’s contributions are striking. They are viciously odd and leap from the pages. Cari Ann Wayman’s images also give an added depth to the overall package at work here. The meshing of word to image is accomplished so incredibly well throughout the collection.

The latest volume from Uno Kudo is a dazzling creation, brimming with life and wonder. It’s mesmerizing.

THE BREAKDOWN

9 - ART

7 - POETRY

9 - SHORT STORIES

8.3 TOTAL SCORE