What Happened Here
by Bonnie ZoBell

Press 53, LLC, 2014. ISBN 978-1-941-20900-4.
Reviewed by Diane Stanton
Posted on 11/02/2015


Bonnie ZoBell's What Happened Here is a collection of stories based on an airline crash that took place in 1978 over the North Park neighborhood of San Diego. The anchor story is a novella of the same title as the collection and serves to introduce the reader to the history of the neighborhood and the horrific nature of the crash, which is said to have strewn the community with human and aircraft remains from the collision of PSA Flight 182 and a Cessna.

Though this first story, we become acquainted with Lenora, a continuing education teacher and her husband John, a newspaper editor afflicted with mental illness. They live next door to Archie, who copes with his own mental health issues. Archie plans a small remembrance for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the crash. Many core members of this neighborhood are briefly introduced at the commemorative gathering hosted by Archie. The community circle widens and deepens with each of the additional stories in the collection.

In "Uncle Rempt," we are introduced to a man who sells New Age crystals with supposed healing qualities, his conflicts with his brother, and his supportive relationship with his niece. In "People Scream," we meet Heather, a confused young woman and the various characters of the Center for Life. "Sea Life" leads us into the world of teenage surfers and "This Time of Night" to a young couple dealing with the realities of HIV/AIDS. Each of ZoBell's characters are fully developed. Each deals individually with the emotions and challenges of realistic life problems. Their stories are connected, though tangentially; taken together, they offer a composite view of the North Park Community of teachers, writers, musicians, artists, businessmen, elderly, singles and families. By the time the reader has finished the last story, the individual characters and their day-to-day living supersede the horrific crash.

ZoBell's writing is deeply textured combination of dialogue, character, and succinct story telling. As a reader, you can leave this book behind on your shelf, but the sincerity and care with which ZoBell constructs her characters and stories make her people real and memorable. She offers a wonderfully compassionate view of the people of North Park with exceptional details of ordinary life. This is a wonderful read!

Bonnie ZoBell is the author of The Whack-Job Girls (Monkey Puzzle Press, 2013), and is a recipient of an NEA Fellowship, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, the Capricorn Novel Award, a spot on The Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions, and a notable story included in the storySouth Million Writers Award. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such magazines as The Potomac Review, Connotation Press, The Los Angeles Review, PANK, and The Greensboro Review. She has been a fellow at Yaddo, MacDowell, VCCA, Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, The Wurlitzer Foundation, and Villa Montalvo. ZoBell received an MFA from Columbia University and currently she teaches at San Diego Mesa College. She is an Associate Editor at The Northville Review and at Flash Fiction Chronicle. Visit her website.

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