While each story can stand alone, reading them all together in a single volume is an enormous advantage. One of the major accomplishments of Hairway to Heaven is its interconnections and associations, its themes and variations, which gradually resolve themselves – effortlessly, beautifully – into a novelistic whole. Hairway to Heaven is a very good book indeed.
Morocco stands for something to each of the characters. In order to decipher this symbol in their lives, they must look inward. They each arrive at a turning point in which Morocco speaks back to them, helps them discover its meaning to them. For Henry, Ahmed becomes his guide not only to various Moroccan sites, but to his own mortality. Rosemary, an American ex-patriate, a grizzled but classy woman, sees her younger self in Sarah and tries to steer her toward a different future.
Lives in these stories never turn out as expected, but they do have the accomplish, the finish, of a life that feels real; sometimes to the point of unbearable pain. Whether it be an old friend that the protagonist bumps into that he can’t connect with, or a father whom he wishes not to be similar to in anyway, for his lack of power, these characters resonate with the human flicker of reality; the chaos that lurks behind the ordinary lives of strangers.
Perhaps the cover says it all? Yes, you can begin to judge this particular book by its cover because inside and throughout all those white pages a hurricane is at work endeavouring to yank everything of life’s rationalizations into shards of disbelief.
With great writing skill Brian Falkner uses simple but effective language to continue the exploration of human emotions throughout the book. Some of his stories are sad, some quite dark and one or two almost funny but at the turn of each page the reader feels a tugging of the heartstrings, or worse, something delving into the mind stirring up those repressed feelings that nobody wants to talk about.
Trains and boats and planes – modes of transport abound in Barry Stewart Hunter’s interestingly varied collection of short stories, although the people they convey are seldom up to speed with their own lives. Persons in transit and the mental dislocations they experience are a recurring motif; thematically, however, there is a great deal more going on, much of which is intriguingly elusive.
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.
At a deeper level, there are questions raised about the nature of reality that are chillingly relevant considering the fact that last year Elon Musk stated publically that there is a billion to one chance that we’re living in “base reality” (that is, a non-virtual world), and even Neil deGrasse Tyson has argued that there is a high probability that we’re living a computer simulation.
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.