Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘story’

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.

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.

Walk Like A Woman

510Kqr+e8mLThe Company Policy by M. C. Questgend.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Why does Monica Roberts want to hire Brandon Wilder for her company, when there are better-qualified people? What kind of business is Monica’s Closet? Who in The Company Policy is gay, straight, bi, trans, cross-dresser, or all of the above? What happens to Brandon when he goes to Monica’s mansion for his job interview as VP of operations?

Here’s a taste of Brandon’s job interview. “When they were done they stood me up and left. I walked around the room admiring myself in the mirror. When the girls returned, the maid had changed into the same outfit I was wearing and showed me how to move and walk like a woman. Not exaggerated and not flamboyantly obvious as to draw attention to myself, but just enough flare to pass and not walk like a man.”

The Company Policy has some strange policies, non-disclosure agreements, work hours, and expectations, in this story that starts out innocently enough, and ends with… well… I can’t say out loud. I’m not one to tattle tale on anybody, let alone on Brendon, and what he decides to do (and does) in this tempting tale by M. C. Questgend.

Like Night and Day

41sUKwJHjgLA Secret Love by Brigitta Moon.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A Secret Love is told from Christina’s and Derek’s perspectives about their marriage, and events before Christmas, with one another and their family. They have two children, and Derek is a successful stockbroker. Christina’s feelings and behavior towards Derek change dramatically, without any rhyme or reason (to Derek). There’s also another persons perspective, which is shared much later in the story.

Ms. Moon has written a clever tale that doesn’t make much sense, until it does. It’s a hard act to bring off, and she does so with depth and precision. Reviewers often say that there are “a lot of twists and turns” in this or that book. This tale goes beyond twists and turns to inside out and upside down. Nothing is as obvious as it seems. Secret, threatening calls to Christina, and Derek’s jealous secretary (Frannie) add to the mix.

When everything comes out in the wash, it is quite a load to try to separate, fold, and put back together. A Secret Love is not quite like anything I’ve read, or thought of before, and that’s good. If you’re ready for something completely different, and unexpected, this is a book for you. Just when you think you know who your partner really is, you discover they aren’t quite the same person you married.

 

 

Something Dangerous

51YshZA25gLA Risky Christmas Affair by Nina Romano.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Serena is married to Walter. They have a jewelry store in Rome. They’ve traveled the world. Their marriage is complicated. A previous loss effects them deeply. Walter wants Serena to take one more trip (a flight alone, to London, to make a deal), before they spend more time together, or she goes back to school. She doesn’t want to go.

One of the treats about A Risky Christmas Affair is its solid sense of place. “For centuries, the castle had been a place of refuge for Popes, and the sight of the fortress gave her the strength she needed to rid herself os something dangerous. When she had the miscarriage, she had stayed at Our Lady of Angels Hospital, which overlooked this same castle.”

A lot happens in this story in a short time. There is mistrust, resignation, attempted robbery, an unwanted gun, expectations, a car wreck, meeting a member of parliament,  remorse, and jealousy. Ms. Romano is an excellent storyteller, and it shines through with this tale. Though it is fiction, it felt like A Risky Christmas Affair could be true.

Gaea Cleans House

518hlTbe79L30 by Arthur Butt. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

What a great opening line. “The day the human race died started typically enough.” Thus, begins 30. A perfect short story with a powerful punch. Mr. Butt has crafted an excellent end-of-the-world scenario, with an unexpected character, and unanticipated ending.

The tale is told in the first person by Artie, who discovers that nobody else is on the Long Island expressway, as he’s making his way to work. No one accept a lone hitchhiker. Artie picks her up, and learns that her name is Gaea (Greek Goddess for earth).

The story reminds me somewhat of a play I wrote a few years back, which was produced and performed in New York. It is called The Goddess of Cancer. The play has a variety of women with cancer, who meet her (cancer) in person and discuss their predicament.

30 doesn’t take long to read, but it will leave you thinking. How did everybody die? What are we doing to the planet? If we call this globe “Mother Earth”, why don’t we treat her like one? Arthur Butt has created a memorable short we should all digest and ponder.

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