Superman on the Roof by Lex Williford
Superman on the Roof
Author: Lex Williford
In his introduction to Superman on the Roof, judge Ira Sukrungruang says the book “did not let me go. It told me to stay in bed a moment longer. Forget my morning rituals.” While I wasn’t in bed when I read this amazing novella-in-flash, the newest from Rose Metal Press, it did almost make me miss my train stop.
Made up of ten very short connected stories, Superman on the Roof takes place in the late 1960s, mostly during the year or so after the narrator’s kid brother dies. Writer Lex Williford reminds us of this at the beginning of nearly every story. His narrator—and the rest of the family as well—defines everything as before or after the brother Jesse’s death, and every story is put into context of that time: “A Rose for Sister Carmel” takes place the morning after Jesse died, “Texas State Optical” starts out, “The summer after my kid brother Jesse died, my mother took me to get glasses.”
Each of the stories is a tiny moment in the narrator’s life, fitting tiny puzzle pieces that fill in a rich picture of a family in turmoil. The narrator’s relationships with his parents and other siblings, as well as with Jesse, are pitch perfect in their sadness and humor. But amid the usual adolescent troubles—getting into trouble at school, misunderstandings, fights with siblings—darker themes start to emerge of guilt and depression, angst and existentialism.
Novella-in-flash is still a fairly unknown form, but it’s one that Rose Metal Press has been celebrating for a long time. Superman on the Roof is the tenth winner of the press’ annual chapbook awards series, and each year the series gets better and better.
The flash pieces that make up Superman on the Roof are like scenes from an old dusty video recorder, glimpses into the way that a family deals with grief and tragedy and the way they inadvertently harm those closest to them. Wounds go deep in this collection—small insults and comments lead the way to bigger scars, physical and emotional.
The stories deal with themes of spanking and lashing, lashing out at others, and the often throwaway cruelty of adults to children. The narrator’s father finds the only way he can communicate with his son is through spanking. One girl in the narrator’s class, too afraid to ask the intimidating teacher if she can go to the bathroom, has to endure the humiliation of peeing her pants in the middle of the classroom. Adults cannot seem to infiltrate the complex world of children, and the divide is great and wide, continuing to widen.
Yet what appears at first to be a community in isolation in Superman on the Roof, brief glimpses of joy and connection help to solidify the humanity of the people in this world. An Alzheimic father holding his grandchild finally can relate to the child’s world again. A seemingly fragile, sick little boy climbs to the top of a roof. And that nasty teacher? Her students get revenge on her in a very satisfying and special way.
Truly brilliant in its telling, Superman on the Roof is proof that the novella-in-flash is a powerhouse form that should not be taken lightly. The book shows that even though we may hurt ourselves and others, sometimes viciously, we can also bring salvation and small miracles to each other. We can be, if only for a moment, a little boy in a superhero cape, standing on the edge, ready to fly.
Reviewed for the SFWP Quarterly by Tara Laskowski.
Tara Laskowski is the author of Bystanders and Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons. Since 2010, she’s been the editor of the flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly. Find her on Twitter @beanglish and at her website taralaskowski.com.