For the cast of characters the present has no meaning. They are suspended between the places they have left and a fantasy of a future home. These are the superimpositions of images that color their thoughts, their dreams, and their narratives – the binaries of home and abroad, the past and the future, the real and fantasy.
The plot moves fast, the narrative driving the reading towards its final unnerving twist. It all happens almost too quickly. James’ writing is so smooth, and the story so powerfully plotted, that its easy to miss how neatly the shifts are between the individual voices, the many delicate links between cause and effect and the parallels between adults and children as we move from one character to another, the way the reader is unwittingly drawn into the toxic culture of privilege that underpins these characters, or how subtle the thematics.
n Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher the main character is a person. And since he’s not a real person on earth that we’ll be able to find, he’s living on another earth exactly the same as ours. In fact, you are living on another earth exactly the same as ours. He earns this, as does the writing because it’s him.
Hope Farm is an exquisite and powerful book that explores the gaps between desire, societal norms, and love, loss, and memory. Both Silver and Ishtar’s story is deeply affecting, and as full of beauty as it is of verisimilitude.
The language is silky and seductive and as a reader I was drawn in, drifting about like a leaf in a stream taking in sights, sounds and feelings. Lucy Durneen leaves the door open to her mind and as the pages pass I’m looking out of her eyes focusing and feeling the world as she describes and experiences it.
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All three novels explore guilt and innocence, good and evil, and the individual versus the state or government, using changing tense and viewpoints. The grand conception is fairly ambitious, but Maiden handles it all smoothly and the stories read like ordinary thrillers. The binaries that charge these books are played with in all sorts of interesting ways as the characters swap positions, power matrices, emotional landscapes, and unravel the structures in which they work.
Always there’s a sense that the world is not quite fixed and that what we’re experiencing is illusory (so much smoke), and charged by scars, memories, hunger, and all that we’ve lost. The stories that make up So Much Smoke are powerful, not so much because of what happens, but because of the way they hint at how much lurks below the surface
On reading these stories, one is reminded of the paintings of Marc Chagall: a hermetic world of imagery, difficult to interpret, informed by rich folk traditions and personal experience. In Gnarled Bones, women are the principal (but by no means sole) targets of the past’s slings and arrows. In this regard, the opening story, ‘Mother of Mischief’, is the most interesting in the collection, casting retrospective light on its own ambiguous title and showing us how we can, after all, be the authors of our own entrapment.
Emily Eckart’s debut short story collection, is unique and outstanding first and foremost for her literary craftswomanship. In “The Beech Tree”, the first story in the collection, she skilfully uses the imagery of trees, fruit and flowers in showing an unhappy girl’s relationship with her grandmother. More than just a detail of setting, the tree symbolizes the love between Grandma and her late husband, which flourished, grew large and endured.