Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book Review: "Bright Shards of Someplace Else" by Monica McFawn

One thing I love so much about reading short stories is stumbling upon story concepts and characters I haven't seen before, and of course, finding beautiful writing. Both were on display in Monica McFawn's collection Bright Shards of Someplace Else.

The characters that populate McFawn's stories are all different—a nanny and her precocious charge, a boss tasked with firing a problem employee, a pompous scientist and the art critic that comes into his circle, a pair of horse trainers and vets—but there is such heart at the core of each of the stories. And each story chronicles a need of some sort—some far more obsessive than others.

My two favorite stories bookend the collection. The first, "Out of the Mouths of Babes," follows a nanny who finds her new charge has a remarkable facility with making phone calls, so she tasks him with helping her solve a few problems. The final story in the collection, "The Chautauqua Sessions," chronicles an aging lyricist whose reunion with his former musical partner is waylaid by his drug addict son, and the lengths he goes to keep his son from affecting his inspiration. A few other stories I enjoyed included: "The Slide Turned on End," which follows a pompous scientist inspired by the intersection of art and science, and the art critic who becomes a somewhat unwilling participant in his work; "Line of Questioning," in which a poetry professor is questioned by police about his relationship with a former student; and "Key Phrases," which follows a fairly new supervisor at a company who is tasked with firing a problem employee.

McFawn, who won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, is a truly gifted writer. There were times, honestly, where her use of language and imagery actually hooked me more than the story's plot itself. Here is one example, from "Line of Questioning":
"Theirs was a comfortable relationship of light mutual contempt that drummed on them bracingly like a light rain when they were together. The old demons of their relationship were soggy but still smelled alluringly like hellfire."
This collection was a bit more cerebral at times than I'm used to with short stories, so I didn't always warm to the plot or the characters. But when I did, I realized what a talent McFawn has, and I look forward to seeing it continue to develop in the future.

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