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The Awful Possibilities Unveils Awesome Truths

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 26, 2010 3:40PM

The Awful Possibilities is published by featherproof Books.
Before cracking open The Awful Possibilities, examine the cover. A parking lot is beginning to drown from a downpour of black, unfeeling faces. And even though the publisher calls this "'Pandora's Book,' because once it's opened, nothing will never be the same," you probably assume you can handle it. How much harm could a little book smaller than the width of your palm cause? But no matter how unassuming this work of fiction looks, it will make you think hard about what can happen inside a human mind.

The Awful Possibilities is a collection of nine short stories about the people you hear "whispering in hallways, mumbling in diners, shouting in the apartment next door." Some of the characters have ordinary problems, such as one who needs a new wallet or another who has lost something, but is not sure what. But these characters are anything but ordinary. Skinning a living human being is not ordinary. Using hotel bathtubs as part of kidney-stealing operation is not ordinary either. You will start each story curious, and you will finish each story terrified.

The Awful Possibilities is a jolting read because the characters' voices are so calmly and rationally constructed that they force readers to question the capabilities of the human mind. Take the first story about a school shooter, for example. Long ago, someone convinced us that all school shooters are wacky anyways, perhaps due to their penchant for trench coats and satanic music. Author Christian TeBordo suggests the awful possibility that school shooters are just as rational as any normal human being. And as you get deeper into TeBordo's book, you realize it's possible for humans to rationalize anything, absolutely anything. By the end, that "Pandora's Book" analogy will no longer seem so far-fetched.

This is TeBordo's third book, and he admits The Awful Possibilities has several qualities typical to his style: gallows humor, attention to voice and language, a resistance to the conventions of the "well-made story" and the easy psychology and answers that those conventions produce. Even more fitting, this book has several qualities typical to featherproof Books, the Chicago-based indie publisher that just released The Awful Possibilities and is throwing a book release party tonight. Featherproof embraces everything from design books to idiosyncratic novels, and encourages authors to participate in every creative step of the production and publication of their books. In the case of The Awful Possibilities, editor-in-chief Jonathan Messinger worked with TeBordo to find a way to break up the text so as not to overwhelm readers. The final version of the book includes handwritten postcards designed by TeBordo and images. Although these postcards weren't included in the original manuscript, TeBordo says the finished book "is pretty much exactly what it looks like inside my head." After reading The Awful Possibilities, we deem the imagination inside TeBordo's head one that is both unconventional and candid. We're relieved these nine short stories are fictional, but not so relieved about the eerie truths they contain.

The Awful Possibilities book release party is tonight at The Whistler, 2421 N. Milwaukee Ave. It starts at 8 p.m., and it's free. You can also read an excerpt from the book here.