And Then We Saw the Flames
by Daniel A. Hoyt
University of Massachusetts Press, 2009
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.
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
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.