by Lisa Wardle

Gininderra Press

First Collection

"Terror curls its claw-like fingers around her throat. "

Reviewed by Jason Makansi

"There are no distortions in the mirror facing the world of Lisa Wardle’s Reflections. Predators lurk on beaches, in homes, and under the characters’ own skin. Both strangers and family members are kept at more than an arm’s length…" Whether these words, from the back flap describing the collection, appeal to you as a reader or not, they promise the grit and gravel of life.

Indeed, if happy families are the same, unhappy ones unhappy in their own way (to paraphrase the famous opening line of Anna Karenina), then there are also no happy characters in Reflections. Or at least not enough that I noticed. These are stories about women, mothers and daughters, women who smoke, curse, smell, dress poorly, yell, and lie, women behaving badly but usually for good reasons, or at least understandable ones, because they often have had bad things happen to them. You have to like the darker complexions of the female psyche to get into these stories, because each one comes at you like individual cars in a freight train rushing past you.

At some point, however, I lost it in the cacophony of the engine, the screech of steel on steel, and the displacement of air by train cars. It was too much, not enough depth, like watching coal car after coal car. The back cover states that these stories will "awaken the reader." To what, I asked? That these types of people, or their thoughts, exist? I wasn’t elevated beyond what I know from real life. Stories don’t need happy characters, but characters are often enhanced through contrast.

Interestingly, few of these stories really end. The "endings" beg the question, what next? There’s no resolution or wrap up. In this way, they read like a chapter for a novel rather than stories in classic short form. Perhaps the best example is the last story of the collection, Wondering. The last line is "I climbed out onto the ledge." If that isn’t begging for a, "did she or didn’t she [jump, light a cigarette, come back in, etc]?" I don’t know what is. The second to last story, Bounded by Tears, ends with, "‘Damn it, Michael!’ She snatches the glass from his hand." I wanted her to throw it at him, throw the glass at the wall, break it over her head, or something. It is as if these stories end in mid-frame, as if the film reel broke or got stuck in the camera. Endings don’t have to be tidy, but they do need to give some measure of closure.

These ten stories, over seventy six pages, are about negative behaviors, derived from nature or nurture. Some border on shocking. Some will remind you of fairy tale characters, like wicked aunts and mother-in-laws. Some, unfortunately, will remind you of women you already know all too well, the ones down the street, across the tracks, in the next town, or at the other end of the bar. If you like your fiction painted by the underbelly of the female psyche and experience in a "bring it on" kind of way, this collection is for you.

Jason Makansi has published half a dozen short stories and several poems in a variety of literary journals, as well as one story accepted by the Amazon Shorts Program. 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"

Daniel A. Hoyt "And Then We Saw The Flames"

Russell Bittner "Stories in the Key of C Minor"

"Mechanics Institute Review" by Various

Vivien Jones "Perfect 10"

Stephanie Tillotson (ed) "Cut on the Bias"
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Lisa Wardle is a fiction writer from Victoria, Australia. She has published work in various literary journals. 

Read an interview with Lisa Wardle