Wiki of Infinite Sorrows by Matthew Burnside
Kernpunkt Press, January 2021
Matthew Burnside’s Wiki of Infinite Sorrows very well might be the sort of text for which the less one knows going in, the better. Reviewing it takes a judicious hand, not because there is any ‘thing’ to ruin per se, but rather because the work contains so many facets, connections and hidden corners that each reader must come to the work on their own terms and plumb its depth in their own way with any prescribed path threatening to miss the true point of the text. Any seriously interested reader might stop at this point and go straight to the text and this review will continue by striving to “describe the moon by merely pointing at it”.
Wiki of Infinite Sorrows is composed of ‘stories’ that are so short as to be almost snippets, interspersed with occasional intermissions and authorial insertions, whose direct quality has a fictional mien. The boundaries between the fictional and non-fictional blend together: the advice offered is as applicable to the reader themselves as to the beautiful, broken characters which fill the pages.
The format of the text takes on a multitude of forms, from entries into a wiki for a video game called ‘Star Map’, to descriptions of the various colors in a box of crayons (and their meaning to Emilia Cress) to passages of breathtaking prose as in: “We analog animals, wonder stricken but grief-gutted, sleepwalking through all the eggshell days…” and “In the whirring calculus of the imagination there are no remainders.”
Individual stories involve characters that may or may not appear again. This may seem like a strange choice, but it suggests that—in life as much as in fiction— the minor characters, even those that never appear again all have their own stories, all have their own triumphs and tragedies of which we will never be aware.
One could view these as constant digressions from a primary theme (largely ‘The Events of the Cress Family’) but this wouldn’t be totally accurate. To map out the members and story(ies) of the Cress family in detail here might not be a mistake, but it would be missing the point. The overarching narrative of the grief(s) of the Cress family is not just something that holds these often and apparently disparate narrative pieces together, rather it is the branching chunks of their lives, the mundane but heartbreaking events that make up the days and nights of any life, that compose the story. That is to say: each functions independently, and when brought together serve to form something that is greater than the whole. Rather than documenting the unusual, the notable, the lofty, ‘Wiki’ highlights the aching beauty of the mundane, the hidden moments of sadness and wonder that occur around the everyday characters, and thus directs us to search out and find these moments of beauty in the warp and weft of the mundane moments in our own lives.
It is the little moments that count: noticing a message written in sharpie under the bleachers during a high-school kiss, a boy’s strange comment to his father moments before suffering a fatal aneurysm, a dog’s memory of food snuck under the table. These at once contrast the perfect world of the imagination with the stifling, imperfect world into which we have been thrust full of family arguments, misunderstanding, loss, death and pain while celebrating the delicate beauty of the world as if to jolt us out of the mundane, out of the ruts that we have built for our selves. The first intermission comes on with “If you’ve been reading for more than an hour, why not take a break now? / When was the last time you spontaneously smashed a phone booth?…Measured the circumference of an ecstasy by the glistening torque of your tongue? / Lived all that shit you read about?”
The last third of the text deviates somewhat in tone and form into standalone stories, which range from the fabulist or mythological, to short vignettes like the aptly titled ‘Story’—an absurdist meta-fable—which are reminiscent of Donald Barthelme, Lydia Davis or Danil Kharms and each of which is followed by descriptions of alternate endings, or alternate ways the story could have gone. The stories are written in their permutations to
At heart Wiki of Infinte Sorrows is a text that does not so much resist description—in fact its surface qualities and prima facie structure would be quite easy to describe—but is a text which begs, even requires, experiencing in order to be even partially understood. In truth, every reader will make their own connections, draw their own conclusions and come to the final message on their own path.
And, of course, the next time you come across a shriveled black balloon lying on the sidewalk, you’ll know exactly where it came from.
Samuel M. Moss is from Cascadia. His work has been published in 3:AM Magazine, decomP, and Young Mag among other venues. He is an associate editor and web lead at 11:11 Press. Find more at perfidiousscript.com and on twitter @perfidiouscript