And Then We Saw the Flames
 by Daniel A. Hoyt

University of Massachusetts Press, 2009
Paperback
First collection

awards:
Winner, 2008 Juniper Prize for Fiction,

Longlisted, 2009 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award

Daniel A. Hoyt teaches in the English Department at Baldwin-Wallace College. Then We Saw the Flames won the 2008 Juniper Prize for fiction and was subsequently published by University of Massachusetts Press. Other short stories have appeared in Kenyon Review, Quarterly West, Indiana Review, Cottonwood, Natural Bridge, and other literary journals.

Read an interview with Daniel A. Hoyt







"In history, you confirm that people have always been filthy. The present is simply the past coated with deodorant."

Reviewed by Jason Makansi


This is the way I like my fiction, when I get the feeling that no one else could write like this. That’s not to say that I think every story in this collection is high art. But unlike other collections I’ve read, these stories are tied together by a certain style. Each is quirky in its own way. But all of them could only have spilled out of one head.

There are some normal (though low class) people doing mostly normal things, as in Last Call of the Passenger Pigeon. Well, except that an old man is teaching a troubled young boy, who has troubled young boy things on his mind like getting laid and stealing booze, how to make bird calls. How, in fact, to be the last person on earth who can make some of those bird calls. This would qualify as a really terrific story, except that ending took me away from the main character’s youth and into some coda-like passage that didn’t seem right. But don’t let that throw you. It’s well worth the read.

Then there are some abnormal people doing abnormal things. In The Dirty Boy, a male character doesn’t shower for hundreds of days and becomes a minor media sensation. It’s thinly veiled sarcasm on our media saturated culture, with an under-toned parody of academia. It works, but again, the ending, this time only two lines so its effect is limited, seemed to me like that hangnail that keeps catching on your threads.

Then there are the abnormal people we all are familiar with, such as terrorists, in this case caught in their own infinite loop. This was my favorite story, Black Box. Terrorists have hijacked a plane but the episode doesn’t end, all refreshments (to keep the passengers mollified) never run out, and the instruments in the cockpit don’t change. One of the hijackers "doesn’t believe in this overwhelming stasis." The passengers are not only not terrified, they are bored and have even gotten sarcastic. "Your wish is my command, Master of Disaster," one of the flight attendants says. Another cares no more whether they live or die.

In my opinion, there’s more imagination and life on this plane than in any thriller with its requisite dark, menacing terrorists doing what you expect them to do. But here’s the even cooler part: One of the terrorists figuratively gives up and talks into the black box for posterity. Only the black box will outlast them, he says. Talking into the black box is all that’s left, the only place he can confess his sins, admit his failure, talk about his predicament. There’s rich irony and metaphorical static in this idea! The martyr seeking his eternal glory in suicide and death decides that an inanimate box will outlast him. This is the one story that I think has a terrific ending, too.

In other stories, Hoyt includes immigrants, skinheads, orphans, and weird people who collect stuff. Don’t be put off by what I say about the individual story endings. We all know endings are so difficult to get right. Hoyt takes us on quite a journey with every story in this collection. You might be a tad wobbly pausing at each intermediate destination, but the overall experience is worth the price of the ticket.




Read a story from this collection in the Kenyon Review

Jason Makansi has published several poems and half a dozen short stories in a variety of literary journals, as well as one accepted by the Amazon Shorts Program and available at www.amazon.com/shorts for the low, low price of 49 cents (you read that right). In 2009, he attended the renowned Sewanee Writer’s Conference held at the University of the South. Makansi has also published three professional books and numerous works of non-fiction in the fields of engineering, energy, environmental science, and economics.

Jason's other Short Reviews: Susie Bright (ed) "The Best of Best American Erotica"

Warren Adler "New York Echoes"

Frances Thimann "Cell and Other Stories"

Steven Coy (ed) "See You Next Tuesday: The Second Coming"

Deborah Bostock Kelley "Damaged Goods: Narrative Unendings from Inside My Heart and Mind"

David Gardiner "The Other End of the Rainbow"

Ellis Sharp "Dead Iraqis"

                     
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