Bananas and Taoism -- Review of Vincent Poturica's "Banana Blade"


Vincent Poturica's "Banana Blade" (in the Spring 2014 issue of Frigg Magazine) deftly explores existential dread through a surreal conversation between a self-aware, suicidal banana and a slightly depressed young man.

The conversation comes shortly after an encounter with a a depressed bushel of bananas that keeps throwing itself to the floor. When the bananas refuse to explain themselves, the narrator tosses them out, and Poturica gives his first hint that the absurd story isn't just a bout getting laughs:

"So I threw them in my compost pit, still yellow and firm—I didn’t want to eat their sadness. I have trouble enough getting through the day."

The line "I didn't want to eat their sadness" is our first clue that something more is going on here, that the story's conceit of sentient, emotional bananas is reaching beyond the ridiculous. We get a stronger sense of exactly where its reaching when the narrator gets the next suicidal banana to explain his bent toward self destruction. After relating that he was able to remember a pre-life experience of being inside the tree among many other deformed would-be bananas that never got a chance to be born, the banana presents the troubling revelation at the heart of the tale:

"... inside everything are deformities … abnormal growths that we mistake for those air-pockets of sadness that sometimes rise up into our hearts … they said nothing in this world is pure though every living thing is seeking to be filled with nothing but clear air … this life is a quest for purity, these lost ones said … that’s all we really want … to be empty."

In a turn that conjures thoughts of Taoism's wind-blown reed, the banana then explains that he wants to be grass. Grass, he says, is the only living thing possessed of this emptiness because it "is free from any life other than the wind's caress."

As the narrator wrestles with how to fulfill the banana's request, we're left to consider how this resonates with our own lives. How are we filled with deformities? What are those stillborn lives that weigh us down from within? Wouldn't we, too, like to feel that perfection of doing nothing more than bending to the wind?

To ask such questions, of course, might be forcing the story to take on more metaphoric weight than it intends. After all, one of the strengths of the story is Poturica's light touch, which enables every line to resonate with an easy humor and keeps the piece from ever wandering into the realm of parable.  However, if you take the story's own words at face value--"metaphor is the only way to escape the sad realities"--I'd say it's taking on just as much weight as it wants, and handling it quite well.

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