TJ Beitelman’s Communion is unlike any collection before it. The stories are written in pairs that, like the body and blood of actual Communion, are strikingly different in form, but very similar in underlying meaning. Beitelman’s stylistic approach showcases his mastery of multiple genres. Some of the stories resemble flash fiction or prose, while others resemble free-standing short stories or chapters in a book. One thing is for sure, Communion will trouble its readers in the most memorable of ways.
“Antony and Cleopatra” and “Sister Blanche” are two of the stories paired together in the beginning of the book. The characters in both stories find themselves in strange situations surrounding their love lives. In “Antony and Cleopatra,” Tony falls in love with his young lover. The love and infatuation are almost all consuming, even when it’s only been a day or two since they've been apart: “Cleo isn't home [ . . . ] he struggles to remember what she looks like. If she even exists at all.” Their love, though, isn't enough to survive the consequences that follow it. Cherie and Blanche, in the following story, take a road trip and meet an old friend from school. Cherie isn't necessarily smitten with Billy as much as she is infatuated with his beautiful home and riches. Billy, therefore, is more smitten with Blanche. The relationships between the three is strange and secretive, and just like its story pair, the feelings in this story “do not take root.”
Betrayal seems to be slithering under the surface of “Sangha” and “Venus.” From the very beginning of the flash-fiction-esque “Sangha,” we are told that Roger is going to be shot by his lover Phillip. The rest of the story is told in, well, flashes, looking at all the people Roger has influenced and helped around him. Phillip plays a dangerous game of Russian roulette with their lives, and we’re left with a bitter aftertaste of an estranged lover and friend. In “Venus,” we learn of a “ragtag army” of children who were taken in by “The One.” The narrator reminisces that “he admired our dirty faces. We were made empty so he could fill us up.” The children are not supposed to think, talk, or do anything for themselves. It is a hive mentality, but the narrator fashions a makeshift figurine that he tries to hide. He, too, feels the sting of betrayal when The One finds his figurine.
“Hope, Faith, and Love” and “Communion” are the final pair in the collection. The tired, neglectful mother in the first gives birth to another child who they all hope will be their savior. But when he arrives and they ask him what he's going to do, he says, “Dammit I’m just a baby and this crown is so heavy [ . . . ] I come from the same dark place as you.” Then one day, their makeshift Messiah disappears. Before he goes, he tells them, “Be your best good selves ‘til I get back.” The titular, and final, story in the collection also features a lackluster mother figure. She’s doing what she can, but her children shy from her, and when it’s time for her special dinner, she “takes her thumb and pricked ring finger together and squeezes a dark drop of herself onto each soft, white mound.”
Communion is a spiritual journey that must be read in order to be experienced. TJ Beitelman has created a strange world in which his fiction is alive in short, bright bursts as well as long, hot days. This collection is sure to hang in the recesses of the reader’s mind for ages after completion.