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  • By brentrobison
    Feb 12, 2010
    This review is by Cheryl Anne Gardner of POD People (podpeep.blogspot.com): I can't really express how much I enjoyed this book. I love experimental storytelling, and I love spiraling interconnected narratives. You definitely get both in this book, from traditional tales of woe and hope, to Aesop's fable styled flash fiction, but no matter the technique, the writing is uncomplicated and yet extraordinarily aware of its surroundings. The stories are crafted so subtly that even the most interpretive reader will find them thought-provoking and challenging. I found the stories very true to life, specifically the author's interpretation of the dark struggles we often are faced with in life and the little epiphanies that come in their wake. Not every realization we come to in life is a grand awakening, and epiphanies are not always pleasant. After reading each of the individual stories -- some of them comprised of more than one vignette or character study -- I, in my own personal opinion,... More > thought the collection really begged the question: Hope? Is it really genuine or is it something we invent as a way to justify our acceptance. With each and every story, that thought gnawed on my subconscious. What also really impressed me was that many of the stories had conflicting interpretations. For instance, in the story "Baptism" -- warning spoiler alert that can't be helped -- an orphaned Native American boy, through tragedy, winds up being fostered by a Mormon family. Upon the initial reading, I could sense some underlying scathing criticism pointed at religious intolerance, intolerance in general. It also made me think hard about the "collective consciousness" that is religion and how it affects the level of freedom people feel they have. As the story progresses, prejudice and alienation turn to trust and acceptance only to betray each other in the end. We can share in the hope when the young Mormon son decides to embrace his new brother, despite the initial cultural bigotry, and through this embracement of an an ideal utterly foreign to his own, he begins to rebel. We can share in his suffocating existence and in the liberation he feels by proxy, but in the end, when a bad decision takes the life of his newfound brother, we also share in his guilt. The Native American boy, through death, is set free, and the Mormon boy is left to regret his sins. Upon a second reading though, we might look at things entirely different, in that the Native American boy was offered redemption. He was to be saved from his heretical existence. Via his refusal to give up his identity, he became the evil usurper, punished in the end for attempting to assert influence over the young Mormon boy. How you take the story will really depend on your own personal dogma. I found this refracted point of view in many of the stories in the book and found it almost ironic that none of the dénouements, such as they were, really offered any closure. These stories have an uneasy alliance with hope. Anyway, there is a lot going on in this book. A lot of themes, but most are of the addiction variety: addictions to love, grief, religion, assumptions, loneliness, predictability. Human's addicted to their pain. This book explores fear in all its wonderous variety. We all share the same collective pathos. There is a lot to experience in this book: a lot of different techniques, a lot of POV shifts. A lot of tense and tempo changes, and yet the messages remain constant, subtle, though not subjugated by the writing. With each successive story we are kept ever so slightly on the edge, even though the situations are relatable, even ordinary. I have never had signs put on my lawn by some unknown assailant, but I know what it is to be driven mad by a neighbor's barking dog. I know what that violation feels like. I also know what loss feels like, and what it feels like to have an out of control sibling. Most readers will be able to experience these stories on a very intimate level. The characters are almost modern society archetypes in a way, and they appear and reappear in later stories as strangers connect and reconnect with each other in very deliberate and at the same time very coincidental ways. This is a very fine effort indeed, very balanced between the light and the dark. There is no melodrama here, just cold, hard, hopeful reality. And even though the characters are merely sketches, they are hand drawn portraits of humanity, meticulously crafted with all their clichés intact. On a final note: I read a lot of short stories, studied them exclusively for a while. I didn't rate this book higher because I didn't find it quite as edgy as say Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son. Mr. Robison has the capacity to get that edgy, I did read some of his online offerings before I agreed to review the book. My preference is for a little deeper and a whole lot darker, but that's just me. In this collection, the author kept things a bit restrained, except for the vignette "Meeting Moira." Now that was more my kind of walk in the woods, where we tread into very dark and very dangerous territory. The psychology of need is frightening, indeed. Even so, I loved this book, and anyone who likes subtle, thought-provoking short fiction will enjoy this.< Less
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Product Details

ISBN
9780578023168
Edition
First Edition
Publisher
Brent Robison
Published
June 22, 2009
Language
English
Pages
194
Binding
Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink
Black & white
Weight
0.76 lbs.
Dimensions (inches)
6 wide x 9 tall
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