Reviewed by Bob Williams
The End of the Circle
by Walter Cummins
2010, ISBN 978-1-933435-32-9, $15.95, 218 pages
Walter Cummins has published with wild abandon in many magazines, has written a number of books, and teaches in the creative writing program of the Farleigh Dickinson University. He has written fiction and nonfiction both alone and in joint efforts with others and has edited two books, also joint efforts.
The first characteristic that comes to the attention of the reader is that, beneath the naturalistic surface of his stories, he is guiding the reader to the sounds between the keys, the microtones that make literature more real than realism. In the first story a man meets again after many years and great personal loss a selfish acquaintance who denies his son and all that the bereft man stands for and lost. In another a man isolates himself from his traveling companions by a pretence of language ignorance. Another man ends a story of frustration and physical pain dancing with his lover on board an excursion boat among strangers. In these first three stories the background is travel, the foreign provides an escape that is elusive and ultimately mocking.
Travel as metaphor is very old and it provides a continuous substratum of these stories. Against the stress of travel we watch the deterioration of relationships. Some of these are doomed from the beginning but even more promising relationships cannot survive the strain of even a slight journey. These are bitter stories. All of the men, women, and children of the stories are imprisoned by circumstances. Redemption for the reader is in Cummins’s pitiless depiction of his doomed characters. Truth is what matters and he makes truth transcendent.
The title story is in the penultimate position and deserves special attention, not because it is better than any of the other stories but because it is typical and obviously important to Cummins since he derived the collection title from it.
Two Americans are tourists in Norway. They have grown children and the wife misses the pleasures of caring for infants and toddlers. The husband has a devotion to his wife to which she makes only a pallid return. Their children are dysfunctional and fractured and the likelihood that they will give their mother grandchildren is remote. It comes as a pleasure then that they meet another American couple and a child. The father dotes on the child. The older man is attracted to the young woman and in a burst of generosity invites the young family to share their vacation. For the sake of the infant his wife makes no objections although she perceives that there is something amiss between the man and woman. As tourists they visit statuary depicting the cycle of life. It is unsettling to the older man and to the younger woman for specifically different reasons. From there the relations between the two couples disintegrate as the relationship between the young man and woman worsen before the eyes of the others. It ends in senseless violence, a more or less gestural conclusion, a bitter cold ending.
There is nothing here for the mainstream reader but for the reader prepared to see the world without flinching, there is an abundance.
About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places