Messiah Tortoise

Red Bird Chapbooks

40 pages

Published January, 2018

Messiah Tortoise contains ten linked stories, each taking place in the same zoo. In this structurally innovative and darkly humorous chapbook, readers find a tortoise with stigmata marks, an agoraphobic grizzly bear, disappearing flamingos, a group of teenagers playing paintball with lemurs, and several rightfully disgruntled zoo employees. Beneath these conceits are subtler stories of loss, isolation, and a few threads of hope. Amid a collection that is fundamentally animalistic, readers gain several glimpses into what it means to be human.

Sample stories from Messiah Tortoise


“James R. Gapinski’s Messiah Tortoise is like a trip to a zoo after a pink cloud of nitrous has settled overhead. You’re elated, you’re having fun, and you’re in tune in a way that surprises you. It’s Gapinski as absurdist zookeeper who makes the trip worthwhile, doling out delightful vignettes that you greedily gobble up, and that stay with you long after you’ve left.”

–Lindsay Hunter, author of Eat Only When You’re Hungry

“The dark, smart absurdity of James R. Gapinski’s writing jolts and delights in equal measure. Gapinski responds to today’s zigzag world with innovative form and gut-punching pathos. Messiah Tortoise is a beast of a chapbook.”

–Ashley Farmer, author of The Women

“Humorous, reflective, and a little bit wild—think George Saunders with a dash of Leonora Carrington—Gapinski has a knack for guiding us through the pitfalls and epiphanies of everyday existence. Whether you choose to savor each story in the collection or devour them all at once, Messiah Tortoise is a welcome excursion into the zoos of the imagination.”

–Liz Kellebrew, review in Pif Magazine

” . . . the images are so strange and unlikely that they also bring a light dream-like quality to the text. The world created here is strange, fantastical, and gritty.”

–Cavin Bryce, review in Pidgeonholes Magazine

” . . . this is what Messiah Tortoise gifts its readers with: a sense of divine within the ordinary, an inventive interplay between the wild and the tamed.”

–Nicole Rivas, review in Necessary Fiction

“This book is tight. It’s got fun alongside sadness — everything is there in the right place for the right reason. Each story’s theme is meaningful, and by the end, you’ll be reflecting for a while on the lives within this zoo.”

Christine Brandel, author of A Wife is a Hope Chest