Medium Hero

Reconnecting with Korby Lenker

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I found it to be auspicious that when I sat down to read Korby Lenker’s Medium Hero last weekend, I had to forcibly detach my furry feline from my shoulder a couple of times before diving into “Cat Lady,” the first offering in the 27-story collection. 

In the true-life tale, the former Bellingham-based musician and author bemoans the fates that have turned him from a brave young man—a guy who wasn’t afraid to grab an electric fence, hitchhike the 2,500 miles between Alaska and Seattle, or walk alone through a Utah desert for a week with only a gallon of water and six oranges—into a self-described “cat lady” with an embarrassing crush on a cross-eyed kitten.

“It wasn’t always this way,” Lenker writes. “From the perspective of true, steel-jawed manhood, I am a pale gadfly where once I was a gladiator.”

At first blush, the story is humorous in nature. But, like many of the recountings found in Medium Hero, deeper undercurrents in its pages point to some of life’s bigger questions concerning the nature of love, fame, the existence of God, and being a sentient human being in the 21st century.

Those who remember Lenker’s time in Bellingham and his stint in the popular band the Barbed Wire Cutters will likely recall that his musical talents are many. He’s an ace performer, but he’s also a songwriter whose tunes do more than make you tap your feet and want to sing along. They also tell stories that make you stop and listen. It’s a talent he appears to have recreated in Medium Hero.

Although not all of the titles in the collection are told from a first-person perspective—a few of the stories feature a guy named Simon, and one is told from the point of view of a young woman—it’s pretty clear Lenker is drawing upon happenings from his own life in them, as well.

The titular story is one that will have readers scratching their heads trying to figure out what’s what. In its pages, the narrator wakes up to “the worst kind of day.” By afternoon, he’s on the sixth-floor patio of a friend’s apartment wondering if he should jump from the ledge.

“To let go, he thought,” Lenker writes. “There should be a round of applause for the sheer bravery of the act.

“But not every act. Taking pills was not heroic, no. Shooting yourself, maybe. Cutting your wrists, definitely. Throwing yourself off a building was somewhere between shooting and pills. Medium heroism, then. He laughed.”

While the subject matter of a possible suicide doesn’t seem like it would contain the capacity for humor, by the end Lenker manages to turn the tone of the tale around. Yes, the character—who may or may not be him—is momentarily despondent about the course of his life. But after an incident that sees him holding his nuts and gasping for breath on the floor of the patio, he can’t help but see the hilarity in the situation.

I’m not sure which stories Lenker will be reading from when he returns to Bellingham Thurs., Jan. 28 to act as both the featured author and the highlighted musician at the next Chuckanut Radio Hour, but after reading Medium Hero I can guarantee you’ll be entertained—whether you’re laughing, crying or somewhere in between.

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