Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"I Return," by Mark Brazaitis

The beginning of the third paragraph reads, “So I was dead.” Usually, I’d stop reading at this point. However, the opening paragraphs of the story offered a challenge I was willing to go along with: “…if I died young…I would return to earth as a ghost to look after my wife and children.” There is a wonderful balance in the writing here between fantasy and the real world, and so in the best of the tradition we are lead to believe in the possibilities. What this protagonist realizes about himself, along with humor, disappointment, and compassion, is surprising with a bit of grace tossed in. For an entertaining fantasy and strong story imagery that lingers after reading, click here for Cimarron Review.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"All There Was To Say," by Peter Syverson

Sometimes the truth of life is too hard to bear and admit, and we tell ourselves variations that protect us from the hardness of experience. Some might accuse us of falling into the trap of lies. But for a brief moment, the variations allow us to move on in life and may provide some motivation for writing fiction. The protagonist in this story at one point compares himself to the ex-lover of his girl friend and concludes, “All of that truth we all think about but never admit to. It is better that way.” While focusing on the actions of his girlfriend of one month, he indirectly reveals who he is. I love the use of the detail of the half-peeled orange, like torn flesh, which is at the core of this story. What’s intriguing is what the reader is left with; the need to re-read the story and see if this guy is who he appears to be. If you like delicious ambivalence turn here to Our Stories.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

If you like a well-written ghost story, The Little Stranger might be your cup o’ tea. All the familiar elements are in play here: the ruined mansion, hints of hereditary insanity, emotional extremes, ghost/demons/poltergeists, imagination versus fantasy. The genre is woven into the setting of England in the late 1940’s just after the war. So we have a relatively recent historical period with modern sensibilities but with characters who can’t quite accept the rapid changes in society. The real charm of the novel rests with Waters’ portrayal of the once magnificent mansion, Hundreds Hall, as metaphorical evidence of the psychologically deteriorating lives of its owners. I could have done with fewer ghost sightings and rumblings but in spite of that I enjoyed this view of England from the historical and social slant. If you take the first sip, I’ll bet you’ll swallow the whole cup.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Look At This For Me," by Catherine Uroff

At one point in my life I had read that a right-angled slant in writing meant that one was spineless and desired social acceptance while a slant to the left indicated an independent thinker and someone who shunned social pressure. Needless to say, I wanted to forged an image of myself that I was afraid did not exist. This story takes an imaginative angle on handwriting analysis. I like the way the story unfolds a set of seemingly random details that are in fact tightly woven to reveal the protagonist. There’s a satisfactory balance here between inner and outer story, and the ending pays off well. Read it here in Foundling Review.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Master by Colm Toibin

I grew up in Newport and Portsmouth, Rhode Island, places where Henry James lived and walked a century earlier during the Civil War. It puts my native place in a larger context. Perhaps I have a particular affinity for James’ work that I wouldn’t have without this proximity in common. Toibin’s novel is a wonderful mixture of James the boy and man; James the writer and artist. I never felt that Toibin tried to craft a message that this is the definitive portrait of James. The writing maintains a just distance from the protagonist that allows the reader to make inferences about the man and his work. Certainly, there are moments when direct parallels are drawn between characters in his life and characters in his novels. His relationship with his siblings, his cousin Minnie Temple, and his jealousy of Oscar Wilde find a way in his writing. But Toibin does not do this in a way that reduces James’ fiction to merely elaborated real life experiences. In fact, Toibin’s novel offers a close focus on a very complex boy and sensitive man; one who surmised that women enjoyed his company more than men, one whose compassion for infected and sick Civil War soldiers aroused within him a sense of guilt and the disparity between them as he was soon to enter Harvard University to pursue law. This novel is a deeply imagined work that flows with ease and yet hints at James’ restrained prose. The emotional nuance that James translated so well in his art is turned on the man himself, the angles and turns of the prism through which he experienced life. I am familiar with Toibin’s short stories, not his novels. I recall a more muscular approach to writing found in his stories than found in this novel, which clearly speaks to the range of Toibin’s art. Revisit the world of Henry James with Colm Toibin.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Son Salutation," by Brittany Fonte

This is a surprising piece in the way that the narrator’s life is revealed through her yoga practice. At first reading, I perceived a risk in writing this piece because yoga is so pervasive and open for criticism of a sarcastic nature, and thus discourage potential readers. But the story draws in the reader and takes the reader on a much riskier journey than yoga. I don’t want to say too much because there is a kind of surprise or twist in the story that is for the reader to experience first hand. The line: “There are rules in yoga class, as in life,” resonates with both the inner and outer story here. Take the risk and read the story here in Wrong Tree Review.