Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘stories’

Make No Apologies

Bonds That Bind: A Short Story Collection by Austin L. Wiggins.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41khyPzdn8LMost of these stories are about people who are alone and isolated, and/or lonely. The writing is flawless, and you can feel the pain, sadness, despair, and hopelessness, seeping from each character. With Bonds That Bind, Mr. Wiggins has compiled an array of men and women who bleed metaphorically and literally. Each story in the collection takes us inside the head and heart of someone who has nothing left to lose. They live within their self-imposed box of how they see the world and themselves.

Here is an excerpt from The Outsider, where a marginalized tuba player expresses his dissent the only way he knows how. “It took him until mid-afternoon to regain composure. With cloudy eyes, Derek glared at the tuba and scolded it for mocking him, but the cumbersome heap of brass pipe would make no apologies. Like his playing ability, the tuba had gathered a thin, palpable layer of dust that had been piling up since Christmas. ‘It’s been two months,’ he said. ‘I’ve got to start practicing again.’ By this small, noncommittal decision, the mere spark in Derek’s chest became a storm. The first notes blared like a horn of war, and they didn’t stop. He channeled the fury in his tempest heart, and it was only then that Derek knew he was angry.”

This collection includes a foreboding tale about a young man who joins his brother Dave in a failed quest for a fast buck (The Bird That Flew Overhead); an insurance agent who helps his brother, which results in his becoming a life-long target (One Man’s Sin); a meticulous office worker, George, who is oblivious about his home life until it’s too late (Radiance); a shunned tuba player (The Outsider); a lonely teacher with a bad addiction (Of Flowers); and a counselor who takes matters into his own hands (What Ails Us).

Bonds That Bind is not a feel-good, romantic, or inspiring set of tales. If it tried to be, it would have failed. The author doesn’t shy away from emotions or situations that are uncomfortable – all signs of a writer who knows what they are doing and isn’t afraid to reveal what we often sweep under the rug. The icing on the cake is that in spite of their flaws, thoughts, and deeds, Mr. Wiggins has captured traits and feelings with which readers’ can identify. Though we usually don’t go to the extremes of his characters, we care about what happens to each one.

Rites of Passage

41uBGeLbd8L._SY346_Midnight and Holding by Joyce DeBacco.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Midnight and Holding is a lovely collection of stories that include a woman daydreaming about the past, which helps her see the present clearly (Rubies and Other Gems); a shed which brings together a husband and wife (The Shed); a carefree youth who awakens dreams and desires of an older woman (Rainbow Years); a humorous account of a wife’s suggestion being taken to extremes (Mad Dogs and Fisherman); a parent’s rite of passage (Midnight and Holding); and a woman who buys her husband a new suit for his last big occasion (Harvey’s New Suit).

Ms. DeBacco has a wonderful sense of home, place, family, marriage, and a life of raising children. Themes of loss, living for others, and losing one’s self, run throughout these tales. In Midnight and Holding a mother speaks about waking up in the middle of the night to a quiet house, once the children are gone away to college. “It’s the middle of the night and, unable to sleep, I wander through the quiet house. Unshackled from the invisible chains tethering me between laundry room and kitchen, I now seek to busy myself with something, anything to keep my mind from dwelling on their absence. Reluctantly, I strip the beds on which they’d slept, my fingers pausing over the deep indentations in the pillows. The neatness of their naked dressers and floors assaults my eyes.”

It is a rare writer that can take the ordinary, and everyday family life, and stretch it just enough to be familiar, yet daring and different from our daily routines and expectations. The author of Midnight and Holding has this ability – the ability to nurture reality, blur the lines and witness characters gaining insight and/or having a transformative experience in the process. At first glance, this collection of stories is about the mundane, but upon reading it becomes clear that each one is a unique creation. They feel authentic and take one to the core of time passing, and the impact those in our lives have upon us.

The Nature of Being

51cq5sixWzL._SY346_The Mystery: Zen Stories by Dan Glover.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Unlike my book of satirical stories (Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire), which was a take-off on the insightful wisdom stories in the classic collection Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Mr. Glover has put together a serious, and in-depth look, at the nature of our being, by presenting eighty-one stories in eleven sections. Here is a glimpse from the introduction, of what The Mystery: Zen Stories lays bare.

This book seeks to illuminate the subtle relationship between the unknowable world and what we know by experiencing the world. It is based in part upon ancient texts written down some two thousand five hundred years ago brought up to date so as to be more applicable to the present day Western culture. In many respects, these tales sound autobiographical, though no one person has “likely” experienced everything within.

The different sections, which are titled as a season (Breath of Spring, Autumn Giving Way, etc.) each begin with a beautiful haiku, then dive into topics such as acceptance, loss, water, stillness, perception, and non-attachment, but in the context of stories and experiences. Mr. Glover has a delicious way with words and is able to see things from many perspectives, and not what may always be expected.

“I once heard of a man who was said to be in possession of a great understanding far surpassing any other. Making many inquiries I discovered where this man lived. The journey was long; the way very difficult and arduous. After months of travails, I reached this man’s abode. He seemed to have been expecting me; looking delighted to see me standing at his door he waved a hand for me to enter.

Without saying a word he brought refreshments. Sitting silently together we ate and we drank. When the meal was finished I got up and I left. When I arrived back home my wife inquired if I had found the man who I had been seeking for so long. I nodded my head. She asked if he had shared his great understanding with me. I smiled at her and looking into her eyes I could see she knew without being told.”

There is so much to be said about this book, yet I am hesitant to say anymore, as my words seem insufficient to describe the breadth and depth of its spirit. I think it best, at this moment, to let The Mystery: Zen Stories speak for itself.

“I hold that we come forth without roots. We enter the world by no aperture. We have real existence but this has nothing to do with place, such as our relation to space; we have continuance but it has nothing to do with beginnings or ends, such as our relation to time. The door of the mystery is non-existence. All things come from non-existence; non-existence is the same as not existing. This is the secret of the ages.”

Beautifully Told Stories

51eFb-W7I2L._SY346_The Oxymoron of Still Life by Lynn Lamb.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

It’s not necessarily what the story is about, but how well it is told. Ms. Lamb does a masterful job telling tales in The Oxymoron of Still Life. The first one in the collection (Beauty Bath) is difficult to take in, with scenes of abuse, degradation and murder. In spite of the content, the beginning line is so good, you can’t help but read it to the end. “The inherent danger from the blackness of the new moon was her veil.” This style of moving prose continues with every word and sentence.

Here is a small piece of this delicious literary pie, to give you a taste of the writer’s style. It is speaking about Oliver in Double Entendre“Johanna still had the habit of blowing the bangs away from her forehead with her lower lip jutted forward whenever she was lost in thought. It was no less endearing to him now. He wished he could stand in front of her face to face, so that he could feel her honeyed, warm breath on his skin. With his death, he was now deprived of that pleasure. So angry at the uselessness of his corpse was he that he stamped out from behind the drapery and plopped down on the bed. She looked right through him, and he felt as though he might die a second time.”

In addition to Beauty Bath, and Double Entendre (about Oliver who is dead, but hangs out with his living wife, or so it seems); is Mothballed, which involves a scuttled battleship in the 1920s and a boy named Brice, who hears her call. Each of the stories in this collection is completely different from one another in tone, subject, and dialogue, providing additional evidence of the author’s insight, imagination and writing abilities. If it isn’t clear by now, I’ll say it more bluntly, The Oxymoron of Still Life is excellent.

Guinevere Comes To Life

51ul4tzb4DLGuardian of A Princess & Other Stories by Cheryl Carpinello. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

This collection includes Guardian of A Princess, Dunham’s Story, Meet The Young Knights, The King’s Ransom: Young Knights of the Round Table, Arthur’s Story: From Guinevere – On the Eve of Legend, and Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend – The Hunt. Though each of these stories are excerpts from longer books by Ms. Carpinello, each one stands on its own and provides entertaining, robust characters.

Guardian of A Princess & Other Stories includes fables and fantasy about well known heroines and heroes, from old England, such as Guinevere, Cedwyn, Arthur, and Merlin. There are knights, princesses, magicians, castles, horses, archery, armor, and one kingdom trying to take over another, as well as King Leodegrance attempting to unite the northern and southern tribes into one country.

Here is Merlin telling Guinevere how the unicorns helped the red deer. “When the forest was young, unicorns roamed over the entire island that is Britain. One day in a terrible storm, a red deer lost its way and was carried across the water to these shores. Not knowing the land, the deer became lost and unable to find fresh water. When the unicorns found it, the deer was dying of thirst. They nudged and pushed the deer to fresh water and later led it to the best grazing grounds and the safest places to bed down.”

These adventures are like a tame (G rated) version of Game of ThronesThe author knows how to take readers into the landscape of medieval England, with a special emphasis on the young, and fierce, Guinevere. Every one of the tales in this collection do justice to the time, place, and the best that fantasy has to offer. Guardian of A Princess & Other Stories provides a good taste of Ms. Carpinello’s longer works of fiction.

 

Wanting More

51VU2hVZacLDoppelganger by Jenny Twist.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Doppelganger – “The apparition of a living person; a double, a wraith.”

In this splendid long short story, we find Christine attempting to kill herself. She is married to Kevin, and has two children. When she wakes up, she is in a mansion, her name has changed, and she’s married to a man named Ricky. Most noticeably, her body is that of a model.

“She seemed to have been thrust into a different version of herself, some sort of doppelganger, but she had no access to this person’s memories. What a complete cock-up! You’d think if this sort of thing were allowed to happen, you’d at least be given a few clues.”

Doppelganger is a fine specimen of a story. Ms. Twist has composed a tale that transfers readers’ to a world few of us are familiar with (except for in movies), but many wish they could experience – being rich and gorgeous. Of course, there are always drawbacks, things we don’t plan on happening, especially if we started out giving up on life.

Christine slowly discovers who she is, and starts to remember the players in her new world, and may even move past first impressions of her new husband and fall in love. The ending of Doppelganger is also the prequel for another beginning. If you like short stories, give this one a try. If you don’t like shorts, and read this one you may find yourself wanting more.

Strange Bodily Happenings

My Terrible Book of Happiness… Love, Anxiety and Everything
by Margaret Lesh. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51DM674eXbL._SY346_One of the things I greatly appreciate about My Terrible Book of Happiness, is that Ms. Lesh doesn’t claim to be an “expert”, or have all the answers, but simply shares what she has experienced, and what has helped her in her life, when anxiety, hopelessness, and depression are present. The very first line says, “There is no one-size-fits-all cure to sadness, but it helps when we share our life experiences – the stumbling parts, the dark places – so we know we are not alone. The end of 2016 and first half of 2017 found me mired in a trap of anxiety, worry, and depression: three things I happen to be good at.”

These essays, antidotes, stories, and trivia, includes four sections (Anxiety, Peace, Love, and Hope). One of suggestions is to take a break from social media and the news, and only take it in in small amounts. There is also a chapter with a great title “Swiss Cake Rolls, Other Strange Bodily Happenings, and Walking”, where she shares the affects that having a child and going through menopause have had on her belly and health, and the benefits of exercise to not only make one fit, but to also ease anxiety. This essay is called “Move It, Baby”. The author speaks frankly, and insightfully, about the benefits of meditation in her section called “Meditation for the Meditatively Challenged (Like Me)”.

After a number of entertaining, and enlightening stories and events, Ms. Lesh summarizes what she has learned by saying, “Unplugging, turning inward, reassessing, and refocusing on my mental and physical health were what I needed to do to pull myself out of my long slump. Walking, yoga, meditation, prayer, active gratitude, mindfulness, music, laughter, and spending time in nature are all things that helped me through the dark times.” The postscript includes a list of what has helped her the most, resources available to readers’ and numbers to call for help. My Terrible Book of Happiness isn’t sad, or depressing, but hopeful, honest, and perhaps a lifeline for someone reading the words within.

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