The latest collection from Michael Rattee, Falling off the Bicycle Forever, is a smooth, two-wheel ride through your nearest suburban neighborhood; if you don’t pay close enough attention, you’ll miss the subtleties of this book’s sedentary life, the thick underlay of muck beneath the gilded exterior of the American Dream.
The writing here is simple and sparse: Rattee employs virtually no punctuation throughout any of his short, small-worded lines. However, none of these are negative attributes in skilled hands like Rattee’s. A reader underestimates Falling off the Bicycle Forever at his or her own loss. Crafted to a mind-boggling degree, some of these poems are so light to the touch that one word added or subtracted could undo the meaning. Not only are these poems then fun to read, but they hold an excellent parallel, the hidden style melting together with the hidden nature of suburbia, those underground cracks and crevices that are so easily ignored. Rattee points a faint, solemn finger in their direction.
Carving slightly deeper with each page, Rattee dissects a cross-section of the suburban mindset. There’s a clear progression of themes throughout the work. Earlier poems – such as “Somewhere with Your Name,” “The Sleep of Others,” and “Last Call” – address the more positive and benign attributes of mental and neighborly connectedness. “You Might Be” displays an engaging awareness of how the daily minutia of American life can tickle memories:
you might be sitting at the table
eating your mother’s goulash
and taste the salt in the far sea air
you might be alive in a distant year
recalling being read to as a child
and hear a brittle voice speak your name
Later works discuss darker suburban themes, including the desire for escape (“The Runaway,” “The Teacher’s of Abstinence,” “Aunt Lucky’s Farm”) and willful ignorance (“Other Languages,” “Practice”). “The Political Analyst” is an especially poignant commentary, one of the rare moments in which the collection strays from its portrayal of individuals as reflections and addresses the wider world:
their desire for reasons
and they would still need
to hire a stranger to describe
they’ve lived in their entire lives
Falling off the Bicycle Forever sinks and builds until the final page, the title poem that best represents Michael Rattee’s outlook on the empty future of the American Dream.
I will admit that the lack of punctuation can feel occasionally taxing. But Rattee’s thin yet penetrating style more than makes up for these small setbacks. Settle in to the quiet despair of domesticity in Falling off the Bicycle Forever; you’ll be glad you did, and you’ll be pricing downtown loft-apartments in no time.