As the reader gets into the stories, the fairytale nature of their shortcomings likewise becomes clear, giving these stories an air of fable – not a moral lesson so much as an insight into human frailties and failings, both mothers and their offspring, merely two sides of the same coin; a parade of characters who come up short.
Regardless of the failings of his narrators and assorted ne’er do well characters, these tales are told in a generous, recognizably human voice, marking Borofka as a writer in whose company you’ll find deep pleasure. Characters’ failings are both unflinchingly observed and held in tender, witty regard, even after a lifetime of screw ups. Most are wrestling with the gap between their modest youthful dreams and the limits imposed by adult realities.
It is always both true and fictive, and like dreams, pieced together from a grab-bag of images and turned into stories that reflect the themes being explored. The Age of Fibs picks up on this uncertainty beautifully and works with it, allowing for openness, complexity, and fragmentation, while still keeping the coherency of the story intact.
This short story collection by doctor/ writer Fiona Robertson, lures us into intimate scenarios where joy and its adversary– fear– are coterminous. From a lovelorn housewife caught in a literal storm and a lonely man in a housing estate, Robertson’s characters drip in pathos and multidimensionality within the tight confines of each story, leaving readers saying a reticent farewell, wondering after the characters, ambivalent about their predicaments.
This meticulous nature of her research into each story marks her out from other writers. This is again evident in another beautiful story where a Parsi youth is obsessed with creating his own brand of perfume (Parfum). Rochelle goes into a heady mixture of the scents and perfumes employed. She even has a lab where the protagonist works to manufacture that one perfume that can be his own. Finally, instead of his wife, he finds solace in the arms of a maid whose function is merely to be like a springboard of scents.
Here there is heartache and trauma and humanity. There is detachment and longing and grief. Maybe we need to expand the umbrella that covers a “better class” of people. Or maybe, our narrator is accurate when, early in the book, he asserts, “Everyone I know is horrible.”
In Shaky Town, Mathews expertly shows us how things work and why they break down, taking apart and putting back together a range of small, yet fully felt lives. His overlapping worlds are mapped in prose that shimmers like hammered copper. He knows this territory well: you don’t doubt that when a certain bug shrinks the leaves of a eugenia hedge, more of a morose neighbor’s sad guitar music will bleed through.
One of the coolest things about the thirteen stories that make up this collection and makes them legitimate contenders for the title is the sense of revelation that each embodies, whether it’s a poignant insight into love or suicide or your “otherness,” or even just the quotidian awareness of being hungry after watching a lion bite off your mob boss’s head, as in S.A. Cosby’s hilarious noir, “Pantera Rex.” Each of these stories has its moment, some more subtle than others, some more dire. (Look no further than the first story, Lori D. Johnson’s “Shepherd’s Hell,” if you’re looking for “dire.”)
Luikart’s short stories are like glimpses of reality television episodes of the down-and-out and downtrodden. Each excerpt gives the reader a video clip in the mind, briefly immersing in the stories of bad parents, drug addicts, prostitutes, the suicidal, the desperately lonely, the neglected, the abandoned, the mentally ill, the grieving, and many more lost and despondent types. His writing puts one right into the desperate situations and into the brains of his characters.
Amouzegar has this fantastic manner of urging his reader to put their “ear to the wall.” He constantly lures you in, requesting that you listen closely, that you read carefully, and that you ask questions. His gift of narration is dangerously cunning as well. Between and within his stories, he experiments with points of view, using narrative gymnastics to capture the most alluring perspective. Amouzegar holds the secrets close to the chest, withholding them until three chapters later, and or even indefinitely.