How do we write the ghosts of a forgotten past? Recent fiction and memoirs crowding the multicultural shelves often provide redemptive narratives that redress longings to mend an irreparable past, to overcome difference, and to find solidarity across time. In her collection of nine short stories reclaiming a neglected disability history, Call Me Ahab, Anne Finger, however, upends such sentimental exercises in sensitivity training and returns to legibility. While Finger excavates the gaps of history and margins of literature, she refuses a readerly desire for some imagined self-satisfying empathy with lost disability perspectives. Quests for literary revenge against historical misrepresentations and marginalizations, as Finger's title story, "Moby Dick, or The Leg" suggests, can be as "strange" a "monomania" for unifying truth as Ahab's supposed obsession with the great white whale (191). Instead of straightforward (all puns intended) fictional narratives of recovery, Finger offers wildly inventive speculative histories that ponder what might have been and insist on a critical engagement with what might be. Her time-warped anachronistic ghosts of literatures past stare back in Ahabian warning. Do not expect some book club literati's tour of the realms of disability; instead, this is a book of revisionary storytelling to provoke an emancipatory future. This is "strange" witnessing at its finest.

For those looking for a good cry over the injuries of the past or a simple blaming of compulsory able-bodiedness, be warned: Finger's stories rarely let readers occupy simple sentimental or ethical standpoints. In the story that opens the collection, "Helen and Frida," Finger forecasts the eclectic blueprint at work for readers through cinematic montage. While watching black-and-white classic Hollywood movies on television, the shifting nine-year-old/twenty-seven-year old narrator imagines her own staging of an alternative history in which the "two female icons of disability" (5), Helen Keller and Frida Kahlo, speak their sexual desires to each other. This close-up on crip sex troubles both normative gender and ability; however, Finger continually disrupts this narrative lest it slip into some self-gratifying nostalgia. Into this movie of the past breaks Dolores del Rio, who denounces a white woman's imperialist performing of the queer Mexicana, and, later, an "angry woman," who rails against the genteel patience of Helen Keller's screen portrayal. In Finger's queer histories, the undoing of able-bodiedness as a viable political and literary project means also remembering its linked genealogy to other histories of "deviance." Instead of making visible some lost ideal that she concedes she "can't yet imagine" (13), Finger's narrator instead points toward the need for a new sensuous language of possibility that mirrors the outlandish seductive fantasies Frida fingers in Helen's palms.

In Finger's speculative histories "outlandish" plots and anachronistic characters serve as important reminders that history is as much about the present as the past. In the next story, "Vincent," Finger refigures Vincent Van Gogh as a "schizophrenic" homeless man in Reagan-era midtown New York City. When his yuppie brother decides to no longer "enable" the artist's disorder (empowered by neoliberal self-help pieties), Vincent applies for disability benefits, initiating a long Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare. Finger, however, turns such a cry of despair against government indifference into an ambivalent meditation on the paradox of disability' final recognition (the projected Disability Discrimination Act of 1992). Such belated recognition means both a possible salvation (of Vincent from suicide), but also the shutting down of genius as a government-programmed disorder. Similarly, by splicing together, in "The Artist and the Dwarf," the story of Mari Barbola, the "dwarf" in Velazquez's famous sixteenth-century painting "Las Meninas," with the story of Lia Graf, one of the dwarfs of Auschwitz, Finger points out the long history of imperial projects (whether Spanish reconquista or Nazi eugenics) as rooted in a lure and loathing toward the "grotesque" other. But in having these grotesque others stare back at their Jewish artists (Velazquez and Dina, the latter an imprisoned medical sketcher), Finger also interrogates various minority groups' investment in ablebodiedness. In contrast to these Jewish artists' assimilationist survival strategies, Lia and Mari confess to their own parodic performance of freakery. It is the freaks who endure longer, happier, in Finger's world.

This desire to connect remembrance to politically transformative coalitions through anachronistic characters and speculative plots can be seen even in some of Finger's more conventional stories. "Our Ned," for example, copies a nineteenth-century bildungsroman by chronicling the life of Ned Ludd, the putative founder of the Luddite social movement against industrialism. But, once again, Finger's narrator, who proclaims, "I am not Charlotte Bronte" in the opening line (135), is not interested in asserting the truth of the myth that the "feebleminded" Ned smashed the "looms in a Leicestershire village" (160) to start a resistance movement. Whether a real historical textile artisan or only a political brand name, Ned, Finger implies, is what always stands outside industrialism's mechanized, progressive, and rational "order of things" (149). "Our Ned" is the "luddic" radical possibility that threatens to return and give scientific classifications a good whack. In "Gloucester," similarly, Finger reinvents the AIDS narrative through her innovative retelling of the Gloucester story from Shakespeare's King Lear. Shakespeare's Gloucester has long been one of the most famous embodiments of disability as metaphor, or of that classic tragic hero who learns to see only when he is blinded. Yet, Finger reincarnates Gloucester as a late-twentieth-century Mayflower descendent and sibling of a famous liberal senator. This representative of an entrenched Anglo-American inheritance learns only to see the truth about his own sons — that the bohemian Charles is actually more loyal and loving than the bourgeois Dexter — when he starts to go blind from AIDS. Only when disability goes from being trope to the traumatically real does the privileged white Anglo-American learn, as disability studies critics have argued, the fundamental instability of a normative able-bodiedness that is always vulnerable to disease, disability and death. By re-doing history, once again, Finger attempts to open up a space for future political alliances.

The danger of such original and inventive historical speculations — despite their provocative aspirations — can be that they at times collapse into coolly intellectual what-ifs that fail to move the reader (as for me in the "Blind Marksman"). Some of Finger's stories can border on being almost too cerebral, too detached with their intrusive meta-narrative authorial voice and characters who slip into ideological types. But Finger also demonstrates that she can use conventional limited and first-person narration to do the work of resistant countermemory to powerful effect. In "Goliath," Finger takes arms against the war on terrorism and U.S. policy in the Middle East by having the "monster" of terrorism talk back. By giving us Goliath's thoughts as he awaits the day of battle against David, Finger parallels Judeo-Christian Biblical stories of conquest to U.S. neocolonialism, as they both recruit images of grotesque deviance to legitimate their imperial ambitions. As the Philistines know, they need only "let the sight of you [Goliath] beget fear in them" (112) to fuel the West's paranoia of the irrational Middle Easterner. More than many of her other stories, here, Finger forces readers to get inside the head of this reluctant monster who only demands justice for the "collateral damage" of violence against his sister and for the "seven plagues" of the military industrial complex (102).

Similarly, Finger imitates the Melvillean soliloquy of Moby Dick to have Captain Ahab tell his own story to the ABs (the able-bodied) who have been duped by Ishmael's false history. While critics have for some time now debated whether Herman Melville's canonical work cooperates with, or critiques, a nineteenth-century white colonial practice toward non-white peoples, Finger not only illuminates that this imperial project included attitudes toward disability (the one legged Ahab), but that imperialism lies in the very definitions of what is human, indeed in the misguided desire to spear and fix "human nature." Ishmael, whom Ahab affectionately calls "Ish," stands in for all adjectival longings — the "ishs" that people use to characterize "ordinary" human experience. It is because "Ish" is so obsessed with naming the truth, essence, and meaning of human nature that he cannot permit himself his "abnormal" love for Ahab and that he cannot recognize a late capitalist anthropocentric butchering of the natural world (Moby Dick) into commodities. Ahab's final warning to Ish might be considered Finger's warning to all wannabe liberal posers who chase Utopia, while fearing the non-normative Ahab within themselves: "Shouldst thou beware Ahab, Ishmael? No, lad, beware thyself."

Finger's stories rarely come to tidy endings that leave readers with a reassuring feeling of empathy or closure. Characters, instead, are frequently on the verge of making decisions, grasping at an insight or on the cusp of change. Such a postmodern open-endedness, however, doesn't just renounce authorial mastery. It pushes readers to shoot the next frame of the script, like the narrator of "Helen and Frida," in readers' own reel/real time. Our responsibility to the dead, to the ghosts of the past, in Finger's stories ends not with remembrance, but with a turn to an anticipated future. Finger's stories have no truck with a touristic inhabiting of the bodies of those differently abled or minded. Her characters pull readers every which way they can by their bootstraps until they are uncomfortable in their sitpoints. These characters remind readers that they don't have to overcome disability. Instead, readers must overcome their limiting desires for their own "nature," whether "normal" or "grotesque," that holds them back from an ongoing openness to others. Finger's stories are finally, then, not about disability, as we might think we know it, but about the need for a constantly dis-abling and self-displacing perspective. This is the tale that we need to pass on. This is the tale we need, like Ahab, to survive the falsifications of our past.

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