REVIEW FOR SOLID GOLD
heavenward, he realized that low cloud had fully cloaked the park;
the city entirely gone, shrouded in mist. It seemed to get quieter,
too. Listening for the hum of traffic from Fifth Avenue, he heard
only the rain blitzing the lake’s surface; infinite ripples
fighting for precedence. And for the slightest moment, Lilly had
vanished too: only raindrops driving through the fog; cold hands,
numb cheeks, rushing wind through naked branches."
Reviewed by Maura O'Neill
You’ll find some
moving tales in this collection. Other pieces may not thrill you.
But, at least for this reviewer, the Solid Gold anthology is a
solid collection. Filled with just shy of two dozen new and
previously published hits by a mix of UK and US writers from all
walks, it’s a compilation from the Gold
literary journal, currently published
biennially by a team in London.
Some Solid Gold
anthology shorts are short enough to read while you heat the
kettle for tea, others are longer. They are organized as well as they
can be: They vary much. Some stories lean toward magical
realism; others are simple, domestic vignettes; and others take such
a different approach that they stand quite alone, as is the case with
Andrew McIntyre’s erotic, violent Dirty War. I read this
piece first, actually, having opened the collection at random. I
didn’t find another story like it in the book.
My inner reader — the
part of my reading self that is carried along by a good story — was
engaged most of the way through Dirty War. Strong writing and
a Tarantino-like approach kept me present. But in the last few pages,
things turned implausible. I felt dissatisfied, and my "inner
writer" — my internal editor— stepped in to work out why the
spell had been broken.
And so, from cover to
cover it went—and I am guessing, so it goes, for many
readers who write: When a story is working its magic, it engages the
inner reader. When it’s not, the inner writer perks up and starts
to analyze. Steve Sloane’s atmospheric The Solitary, for
example—a story about just how surreal life can get at the end of a
relationship — carried my inner reader along from the second
sentence on. And John Griffiths’ quiet but profound Minna kept
me in "the reader zone" most of the way through. As the story
ended, I emerged with an insight: "Ah, so that’s how you dither
your life away!" Omma Velada tells a haunting and convincing tale
in A Witch’s Finger wherein a young girl recounts a gritty
and true happening at a military hospital in Ghana. It keeps you
entranced and leaves you exhausted at the end.
In these "top three"
picks, the part of me that stops being engaged and starts looking at
sentence structure or literary conceit lay mostly dormant. Other
stories were engaging, though perhaps not from beginning to end. I
struggled along as Christina grappled with her conscience in The
Candlesticks by Jim Meirose. Wikihistory was fun; hats off
to Desmond Warzel for a new approach to an old technique. Ron
Savage’s Isaac and Augustina kept pulling me back into the
narrative. And Sieve by Aliya Whiteley collages sentence fragments and random
thoughts into a believable reverie.
A few Solid Gold
stories were difficult to push through, keeping my writer-self busy
as the dickens, and I wondered, "What gets in the way of a
reader-friendly story?" A short list of impulses that might
obstruct the telling a good tale include: trying to teach a lesson or
make a point; seeking to shock, confess or impress; trying to make it "sound like a short story"; mistaking cryptic for artistic
writing; and venturing too close to journaling.
But even if this or
that story didn’t whisk me away to another time and place, so what?
First off, it’s a matter of taste. The stories that engaged me may
alienate someone else. Solid Gold pieces that in my opinion
didn’t live up to the editors' commendations, someone else may
love, love, love.
Second, all of the
stories in this collection reminded me that writing is worthwhile and
admirable, no matter whether it is successful in the mind of the
reader. Take The Truant, by author David Gardiner (who is also
the editor). It is not exactly riveting, but it treats the topic of
middle-age crisis with a refreshing, genuine approach. And as I read,
I was reminded of a college professor who said that "writers write
to fill a hole." She said that every writer has a "burning
question" that needs answering. It’s like an ache. And writing is
about working out the answer.
reminds me that, beyond whether a story successfully engages the
reader, fiction writing that earnestly grapples with a "big
question" is valuable, whether the storyteller is Eudora Welty, a
ten-year-old poet scribbling in her notebook, or a sales manager by
day and novelist by night. Why? Because it takes courage and faith to
fumble in the dark toward story.
THE BOOK DEPOSITORY (free postage worldwide)