Reviewed by Phillip Howlette
Fresh Air and Empty Streets
By Oliver Cable
July 2016, ISBN 978 0 99545 090 5, Paperback: 134 pages
In the beginning of his beautifully written debut Oliver Cable allows us to believe we are simply watching the story of a young man bent on redemption for the wrongs committed by his father. But there is so much more to this book than a mere story about people.
Even the book’s title ‘Fresh Air and Empty Streets’ takes its own good time before it shows itself. When it does it is a moment to remember.
Fifteen years after Alexander left his wife and child to pursue the life of an artist in Paris, his son Felix turns up looking for answers. Part of the story unfolds in the back streets, smoky jazz bars, artists’ studios and along the banks of the Seine where Felix searches for the man he never knew.
The author’s descriptive passages of Paris are so powerful and illuminating that as Felix wanders through the City of Light it feels like we are right there beside him and when he stumbles his way into a romantic interlude with the beautiful waitress Senna, we can be thankful that the author allows us to turn away at the right moments. As his fumbling turns to manliness Felix begins to understand something about love and relationships and his attitude towards his father alters.
It is easy to fall again into the author’s trap and believe this is a simple story but when Felix questions his father’s motive for abandoning him and his mother, the answers are not what he expects. Instead Alexander the artist takes his son on a journey of discovery about life and love and even the definitions of what art and literature are supposed to be.
For an author who claims to have only written short stories and poems Oliver Cable demonstrates a consummate skill in the longer form of writing. The intricately woven stories of the setting, the characters with all their flaws and emotions and the underlying themes are carefully crafted together in a way that, like the river, flows away from us but never disappears.
Whether you have been to Paris or not, you will want to go once you immerse yourself in the story. This could have been done so wrong but the author has used his great knowledge of the city and its art and music and applied his excellent writing skills to develop a wonderful advertisement for Paris as a destination. And having read ‘Fresh Air and Empty Streets’ instead of just going to see all the usual tourist attractions you will need to take a walk through the back streets, go inside a jazz club and visit the artists on the left bank.
There is something else going on inside this story too. The undercurrents of what is creativity and what is art bubble up constantly. Isn’t a painting done by hand in the same way that a story is written also by hand? Fresh Air and Empty Streets is not just a piece of literature; it really is a work of art.
About the reviewer: Phillip Howlette lives near Newcastle New South Wales Australia and enjoys writing, painting and going for quite short walks. He has self published short sci-fi stories and a beginner’s guide to meditation on Amazon. He is a member of a small creative writer’s network and continues to write stories every week.