Breakup stories, as a genre, have become as clichéd and overdone as their inverse, love stories. Dear John/Jane letters, lipstick-smudged collars, and clothes piled up and doused with bleach have become the tell-tale signs of love affairs that have run their course. Yet writers with sagacity and wit can sidestep such been-there, done-that tropes and elevate the breakup story to new levels. In Michael Czyzniejewski’s short-fiction collection “I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories,” readers zigzag through the demise of one relationship after another, some of them long-term romances, others missed connections that crash and burn even before they begin.
Tragicomic incidents involving public masturbation, a lethal peanut butter sandwich, apocalyptic plagues, and Meryl Streep’s breasts open gateways into the pathos that calls out for recognition when a relationship, regardless of its depth or duration, hurdles toward dissolution. Czyzniejewski exhibits an enviable knack for black humor, combining the scathingly urbane with the wickedly boorish, all through a lens that shifts kaleidoscopically from naturalism to postmodernism to magic realism and beyond.
The brevity of Czyzniejewski’s stories—many of which qualify as flash fiction—initially destabilizes readers. Indeed, a common complaint among readers is that short stories begin and end too soon. Nevertheless, Czyzniejewski’s prose is self-assured and he is confident in the multiple worlds he creates within this purposeful collection.
A grieving widow embarks on a love affair with her son’s imaginary friend, a couch potato allows himself to be put up for sale in a pawn shop, a loutish husband cheats on his astronaut wife shortly after she blasts off into space, and none of these stories, thanks to Czyzniejewski’s deft storytelling, rings false. Yet Czyzniejewski’s aim in this taut collection is not to pass judgment on the bathetic circumstances his characters find themselves in, mostly as a result of their own bad choices. He merely observes them as they try their damnedest to keep loving relationships intact. This collection exhorts readers to grapple with the fact that someone, someday, will leave you, and when they do you must find a way to go on. (Jarrett Neal)
I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories
By Michael Czyzniejewski
Curbside Splendor Publishing, 200 pages, $14.95