Sarah Creech’s first novel, Season of the Dragonflies (William Morrow 2014), is a beautiful book and mesmerizing story. The story is about the Lenore women and their perfumery in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it is, as the synopsis promises, “a beguiling tale of practical magic, old secrets, and new love.” Continue reading
TO BE BRIEF is a review series focusing on chapbooks, novellas, and other short-form fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. If you’d like for your work to be reviewed in TO BE BRIEF, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the title story of Ryan Werner’s excellent fiction chapbook If There’s Any Truth in a Northbound Train, two brothers trade blows and head in opposite directions. It’s brief and powerful, packed tight with the heft of violence, familial breakage, and movement – physical and emotional – that Werner invests in all of the stories in the collection.
There’s a beautiful tension that rises up in the chapbook, a tension between the big actions and emotions of the characters and the relatively small spaces in which those lives are fleshed out on the page.
Werner’s people are constantly in motion, even when their lives have become static. There’s bad advice out there about needing to get characters out of their day-to-day lives. Werner disproves that advice by having the day-to-day be the thing that is creating movement internally and externally. And what we call movement can also be called desire.
What holds Werner’s stories together other than that movement, that tension? Echoing ideas and images. Take “Origin Story,” in which a young boy is missing his brother, who has disappeared. The boy looks for answers in comics and in his family. Everywhere he looks, there is the echoing of “two.” Everything in the story is paired up, though of course, the unstated pairing – the fractured one – consists of the narrator and his missing brother. The echoes remove the need for a more fully fleshed-out narrative. They create trajectory through repetition.
Werner’s masterstroke in the collection is the pure simplicity of emotion that manifests in the characters. Werner’s not afraid to let his characters show very simple emotional reactions – love, desire, jealousy, anger, all of the above – though he’s also not afraid to take those simple emotions and reveal their complexity by investing them in the scenes he builds. The narrator of “Origin Story” closes by saying, “I walked around to the front of the grandfather clock and stood under the light by myself. The room became louder than the people in it and I could feel us all feel it, tools and dust and foundation settling in deep until even that went away and it was just me and the clock and a click, the pendulum swinging one way and another.” The emotions that Werner has fleshed out earlier in the story thrum with the scene, and what was simplistic becomes complex. In the stories in If There’s Any Truth in a Northbound Train, Werner strikes this balance again and again. The result is beautiful, terrifying, and human in the best possible way.
If There’s Any Truth in a Northbound Train is available from Passenger Side Books.
I don’t read a lot of fantasy, or science fiction for that matter. In fact, the only fantasy books I have ever read of my own free will were The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. If I hadn’t grown up without my mom reading them to me three times through, I may not have ever read the books on my own. I most recently read the LotR series about two years ago for no other reason than I missed my mom and was feeling really homesick. She always did the voices when she read to me, and as I read, I could hear her voice as though I was eight years old just yesterday. I’ve almost always been satisfied with non-fiction, but like so many others I was first introduced to the storyline of Game of Thrones by the HBO series of the same name. A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as the Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin, has been a fun though sometimes challenging read, while proving the exception to the rule that “the books were better”.
In his book on writing The Lie That Tells a Truth, John Dufresne argues that, “Every character has a public self and a private self and a self that he doesn’t even know about.” As I moved through the five stories in Kirsten Clodfelter’s fiction chapbook Casualties, the tension between those three selves manifested again and again. Clodfelter’s characters are forced, often through societal expectations, to present one image of themselves, but their internal lives – known and unknown to them – push against that social standard.
I flew. Or maybe I floated? Either way gravity seemed disengaged. Naturally this lasted momentarily as flying was little more than an illusory falling: gravity’s poor attempt at humor. Falling too lasted momentarily transforming into rapidly accelerating tumbling. Mild panic transformed to deadly terror. We’ve all had dreams of falling. Woken to the terror and disorientation as the world tumbles out of control. As kid, my nightmarish dreamscape was always inspired by a cheap mass produced print over the couch, some unholy synthesis of Escher and Dali filled with bright geometric blocks melting into irrational lines, which I always seemed to fall endlessly through. Stephen King’s Under the Dome, another mass produced print, kept bringing me back to my youthful hallucinatory spills into continuous falling terror. Continue reading
Last year, I started hearing murmurs on Facebook that an old friend had written a book. This happens from time to time, but what struck me about this particular friend was that I knew her to be someone of pretty good taste in literature, and those kinds of people seldom finish the books they start to write.
So I investigated. Indeed, she had finished the book; so much so, in fact, that she was beginning to search for publishers. Two or three emails later, I was on board as a test reader and I had a three-hundred page PDF sitting in my inbox. This was my introduction to Ede, by Ruthie Snoke ($10 from Amazon).
To clarify, I’m not the typical target audience for a book like Ede. Ruthie and I discussed this briefly; she isn’t sure what the target audience is, exactly, but late-twenty-something male bureaucrats is probably not it. That said: I enjoyed the read quite a bit. And I’m not just saying that because I know the author: it takes some fine writing to get me reading over three hundred pages of–well, anything.
There are times in the life of a reader when you come across a book that re-awakens something deep within – times when the child inside comes to the surface, full of wonder and excitement. We’ve all (hopefully) experienced this. Several years ago, I picked up a paperback copy of “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss. I got home, sat down, and began reading. After a half-hour or so, I stopped and looked around the room, wide-eyed. I then proceeded to fix myself a drink, find pillows and a blanket, and settle in to the most comfortable spot that I could. It was going to be one of those times. “This,” I thought, “THIS is what I’ve been waiting for.” Continue reading