May 26, 2019

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Short and sweet

Author's story collection more than worthy of readers' attention

They say books with bound pages and covers have withstood the challenge of ebooks and may even be increasing in popularity. If that is true, might we even see a new interest in short-story collections?

Stories may be a smart intermediate step between seconds-long text messages and devotion of time to lengthy novels. They may even be a good antidote to Netflix-itis.

A new collection by Massachusetts author Brendan Mathews is a perfect place to start. Mathews achieved success with a sprawling first novel called The World of Tomorrow, and 10 of his short stories have now been collected from a variety of literary magazines into a volume entitled This Is Not a Love Song.

The stories vary in length, topic and format, but each is appealing and often fascinating.

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They say books with bound pages and covers have withstood the challenge of ebooks and may even be increasing in popularity. If that is true, might we even see a new interest in short-story collections?

Stories may be a smart intermediate step between seconds-long text messages and devotion of time to lengthy novels. They may even be a good antidote to Netflix-itis.

Tricia McCormack</p><p>Massachusetts author Brendan Mathews’ new collection of stories is an example of the entertaining power of short fiction.</p>

Tricia McCormack

Massachusetts author Brendan Mathews’ new collection of stories is an example of the entertaining power of short fiction.

A new collection by Massachusetts author Brendan Mathews is a perfect place to start. Mathews achieved success with a sprawling first novel called The World of Tomorrow, and 10 of his short stories have now been collected from a variety of literary magazines into a volume entitled This Is Not a Love Song.

The stories vary in length, topic and format, but each is appealing and often fascinating.

Take, for example, My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened to the Lion Tamer. It is in the form of a dramatic monologue, a male circus clown addressing the daring young woman who walks a tightrope and flies from one trapeze to another without a safety net.

"You were at the top of the ladder," the clown states, "and although you could have stepped lightly onto the tightrope, testing its thickness and tension, you raised your arms above your head and cartwheeled to the middle of the wire... My heart burst like a child’s balloon. Right then and there I knew I loved you."

Ah, but the poor clown soon finds he has a rival in the lion tamer and, in their attempts to impress her, both men are driven to amazing performances of their own.

Another variation of the lovers’ triangle is in Heroes of the Revolution. A friendly interaction between a middle-aged Bosnian woman, a gregarious Lithuanian man and a young American woman is played out against a larger picture — revolution in Bosnia and Lithuania.

The format of the collection’s title story consists of descriptions of photos from the life of Kat, the "Red Queen" of post-punk rock. These capture the fragility of fame in the music world, as well as the quirkiness of the narrating observer who documents her life.

The aptly named story Salvage shows Tommy, no longer young and now suffering from an accident at work, struggling to make something of his life while toiling for an architectural salvage company.

His work with a nasty boss is nicely contrasted with the baptism of his sister’s baby, where his family show how they feel about him.

Henry and His Brother offers an unusual narrative technique: the two brothers alternate in telling segments of their story, and the reader finds out details that each brother doesn’t know about the other.

In the darkly funny Airborne, Dan is obsessed with the notion that his home is full of mould. Here’s an exchange between him and his wife, Jenna:

"Did you hear that?" he says.

"The mould?" Jenna says, and immediately she knows that tonight they will sleep as far from each other as the queen-size bed allows.

"No, not the mould," he says. "Just being this close to the wall is enough to make you sneeze."

"No," she says. "It’s enough to make you sneeze."

"And what about Lucy?" he says. "Do you still say it’s the flu?"

"Don’t bring her into this," she says. "If you want to go crazy, fine. But you’re going there on your own."

Featuring a variety of both subject and presentation, often in a humorous way, Mathews’ collection is an excellent example of how entertaining today’s short stories can be.

Dave Williamson is a Winnipeg writer whose own collection of short stories is called Accountable Advances.


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