by Melissa Lee-Houghton
are many short stories we cannot describe in a few sentences. This is
not the case with Shirley’s work. His plan is clear and set; stories
are ultimately accessible and readable and each story can be recalled
easily; e.g. "..Woman walks into a bar, woman acts out meticulously
planned vengeance for her daughter." Sometimes, it almost feels a bit
American T.V drama, and in fact I believe these stories would make
first story, Charisma,
sees a young woman of the same name swindle a preacher out of money
only to find she’s being swindled by her lover instead. The characters
in this book are not trying hard to win us over; and often show no
empathy within the contexts of their situations. Jack and CJ’s feud in Turkey Hunt
relieves itself by means of stalemate, not the avalanche of dramatic
disaster the reader might expect.
apathy soaks through each page, through each "role." Longer
shorts like The Story
of William B. Greene and The Trust Jesus Society give a
little more of the character’s emotions and psychologies; Shirley is a
master of the design of fictional character. Duane in To Be Loved in Skyline
is slightly comedic and as a supporting character does hold the
reader’s interest. I often felt, however, that the characters and the
prose were somewhat lacking in splinters and imperfections. Shirley is
craftsman, a perfectionist, whose stories are shaped and tended with as
much precision as a glassblower.
After finishing the book I found I was ambivalent; equally impressed
and numbed by the effect of over-emphasizing fictional detail
(therefore making it far more unreal), and making the story’s
characters wear stilts. I think my main issue with this book is that I
wasn’t convinced in the way that literary prose should convince;
however, I think that American readers will grasp the stories in a more
familiar way than I have. I would be very interested to see the stories
adapted to stage or screen.
Watch the author read one of the stories
from this collection on YouTube
writes poetry, short stories and reviews and is author of Patterns of
Mourning, upcoming from Chipmunka Publishing and currently available to
Publisher: Jefferson Press
bio: Born in Alabama, now living in
Shirley's territorial literary roots and
style illustrate a deep, personal passion for the South. He is a public
speaker, CEO of an ad agency, and is currently working on a novel.
Previous publications include Four Odd and Endings, both early volumes
with Philip Shirley
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