My Two Worlds /Short Stories

by Jana Coman

Third Party Publishing (call 1-888-339-2323 for copies)

Reviewed by Paul Lowinger

 

I planned to write about Jana's book but was frustrated when the newspaper, 55 Plus later called Panache for which I wrote went broke and disappeared. The review was deferred but when Jana died suddenly in January, the assignment was overdue. I met Jana in Toni Mester's senior writing class at the Aquatic Park Senior Center where I attended for a year but Jana was in this writing class for a decade. This was the Jerry Springer class with tears, feuds, walkouts, anger and defections as everyone read and critiqued each other's work from 9:30 to noon on Wednesdays ten months a year.

Jana's stories offers an isthmus between humor and bathos; that is the territory connecting self-pity and laughter. She is a story teller who can whine about being lonely after loosing her husband Mr. Coman to cancer and then laugh at herself for confusing the odor of a skunk with a gas leak. Her native Rumania doesn't escape this dichotomy. There is the story of Jana's engineer husband in Stalinist Rumania dressing in American clothes to meet with a visiting Communist delegation from the German Democratic Republic and the story of her honeymoon with both her mother-in-laws and other relatives. I visited Jana's home so one of my favorites is The Crystal Fish about her addiction to kitsch.

Jana plays her role as Lucy when she's up to her neck in a sinkhole in a Bucharest snowbank until a rescue by soldiers, bumpkins with peasant accents from Transylvania. In her sheepskin fur coat, she looked like a seal and after her rescue she fell face down in the snow. Or on the plane from New York to San Francisco when she's given free soft drinks, cigarettes, matches and plastic dinnerware and she says to a disdainful Mr. Coman that perhaps this why America is called a free country.

During a Caribbean cruise she is seasick and is convinced the turbulence will sink her luxury liner like the Titanic so she puts on a life jacket, stuffs her valuables in her pockets and looks like King Tut on the bed as she argues about the danger with Mr. Coman. She wakes in the morning to a calm sea and a sunny day but Lucy goes on to more adventures with cars, gambling, nightclubs, shoplifting, psychotherapy and an encounter with George P. Schultz later the Secretary of State.

Once I was asked by a woman at Fromm what her less worldly sister could read that omitted profanity and explicit sexuality. I was taken aback by t he perfectly sincere question but I replied without any recent first hand knowledge that she should try the books for teens. Jana's stories come close to qualifying. The words and images on the page are what count but the way Jana herself read these stories aloud in class added a dimension to their meaning. Her unique accomplishment in writing these tales was combined with the drive to collect and self-publish them so now we can all share them.

This writing class has an annual reading open to the public at the Aquatic Park Senior Center a Wednesday or two before Christmas where I'll go to find Jana's spirit in December 1999. Check with the Center for the exact date but don't call it the Jerry Springer class.