by Curtis Smith
First collection? No
Curtis Smith, a high school teacher for kids
with special educational needs, has been writing for some time. His
highly developed command of words and structure has led to notable
successes from flash fiction collections to full length novels.
with Curtis Smith
"... so we sat there in
the dark, waiting, once again, for one of those rare, terrible moments
in life when something of meaning was about to happen."
Reviewed by Mark Dalligan
After reading this fourteen-story collection you will never be the same
again. This is no temporary immersion in fictional worlds; this is high
quality writing that leaves a rope burn.
The Girl in the Halo
is an ambiguous tale of obsession, but more than that, it is an elegy
for the changing rural and social American landscape. Scattered with
clues to a murder (and just as liberally with "red herrings") the
narrative uses a canvas of plot devices that rabbit-snare the reader,
holding your eyes to the unfolding action, despite a yearning to turn
away. A poor rural boy, resentful of encroaching country club
culture, is trapped at the centre of a local tragedy. This examination
of the clash between established and emerging cultures was famously
used by Sir Walter Scott, but whereas Scott took hundreds of pages to
drive home the point that cultures adapt or die, Smith slams this to us
in a very few pages.
There is edginess, maybe pulled from early
American literature, which comes from distinctions drawn between
natural feelings and nurtured disdain; between the safety of the land
and the wildness of the forest. Even with all the pointers, or
perhaps because of them, the reader is left wondering if they have
correctly identified the murderer.
Think on Thy Sins
takes us to the world of recent Russian immigrants living in America.
This is crime fiction featuring pride, money, violence, sin and
culpability. At the same time, it is a "coming of age" story as the
young anti-hero learns the subtleties and deceptions of the adult
world. On another level it looks at cultural similarities and
differences, the drive for education and the instability of family.
There is no triumphant winner, just scars, regrets and truths to carry
forward in life.
What About Meg
takes us in a different direction to the previous tales. Here we meet a
post-heart-attack academic who has died and been revived. The plastic
valves of his new heart are not the only things that have changed in
his life. He finds himself wanting to sell his house, but this will
institutionalize his retarded, late-thirties, basketball-playing
daughter. Is it family and duty or control of personal destiny that
is one of the lighter tales in the collection. At a fancy dress party,
costumes and make-up combine with alcohol, education and class as a
catalyst for change. The pressure is released in a talent show that
sees the outsiders, at least temporarily, accepted.
follows Ambrose, a middle-aged man with an "off the rails" teenage son
and a mother struck dumb by a stroke, as he struggles to come to terms
with the his wife’s desertion.
He finds himself ineffectual, lacking the capacity and drive to take
control of things in the same way he has done in the past. He is
rescued by involvement in a school project that ultimately leads to a
spiritual reawakening, but one achieved on a slip road to danger.
gives its name to this collection and is the only story not to have
been previously published. We meet a carnival performer, a theatre
major, not a professional carnie. He is trapped in a sub-culture from
which he feels subtly divorced, craving comfort over the open road. The
protagonist’s situation is mirrored in that of his fellow artiste, a
caged monkey. The man’s lack of empathy (or is it the monkey’s inherent
evil) lead to potential tragedy.
Smith is an original writer with a unique and compelling voice. I
highly commend him to you.