"Loeka Discovered” by Seth Fried can be found in the most recent issue of The Missouri Review, and is a work of tremendous humor, warmth, and insight.
“Loeka Discovered” tells the story of a anthropological lab and its study of a newly discovered somethingzoa-era caveman named Loeka (which, noncoincidentally, for several reasons, means “life”). The story is told in the first-person plural, so readers get the we collective consciousness throughout, with a few characters being named, often through funny ironic nicknames. The whole lab, hence the first plural, is aflutter with excitement over Loeka, and soon, the thawed villager becomes more than an academic pursuit, transcending admiration to the point of super-inspiration. Studying Loeka, the scientists dress better, they drink in celebration instead of self-loathing, and everyone starts having sex a whole lot more, lab romances multiplying like spores. The crew hasn’t been this happy since ever, Loeka providing a shot in the arm that probably prevented more than one razor to the wrist.
Of course, since this is a short story, things have to go awry, and they do, in the form of the Big Man, an even more impressive specimen that dwarfs the discovery of precious Loeka. The Big Man, also aptly named, threatens to become just that, the BMITL (big man in the lab), and the Loeka-adoring populace is not happy. Loeka was good enough, they decide, and no matter what anyone says about the Big Man, he can never be as grand, no matter how much press and accolades he brings with him to the lab. The Big Man could suddenly wake up, jump down from the stainless steel table, and hand over an extinct root that cures all forms of cancer, and the white coats who narrate the story would only hate him even more.
Where the story goes from wildly intriguing to great is when the scientists start falsifying their findings to create biased narratives, their recreation of the specimens’ lives reflecting an obvious favoritism. Facts are stretched, others ignored, and those who do not comply are soon jettisoned. Fried has a keen wit, and this story is a lot of fun to read.
In the end, this story is about heroes, about where we place our hopes and dreams, about how nothing can shatter that, no matter what truth comes out, no matter what the heroes themselves are accused of. In the era of steroids in sports, corruption in politics, and all kinds of other high-level disappointments, Fried has captured the spirit of fandom, so close to the tee that I’m beginning to second guess my own heroes, my own pursuits. How blind are we when the wool is over our eyes and pull tight?
Seth Fried was a student of mine at Bowling Green, and as an emerging writer, has had a great deal of success, placing stories in journals like McSweeney’s, One Story, and a couple of times in The Missouri Review. Someday soon, he’s going to have a collection, and it’s going to be excellent. Read as much of his work as you can now, so when he’s famous, he can be your Loeka, the one you rooted for from the beginning.