Why the Long Face?
by Ron MacLean
First collection? Yes
Ron MacLean's fiction has appeared in GQ, Greensboro Review, Prism
International, Night Train and other quarterlies. He is a
recipient of the Frederick Exley Award for Short Fiction and a Pushcart
Prize nominee, and author of the novel Blue Winnetka Skies.
with Ron MacLean
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"I thought about running
downstairs with a sheet, following under her, judging wind conditions,
gauging the trajectory of a possible fall. But I couldn't make myself
move from this place of coaching, coaxing, a place from which I
imagined I could take action if needed. I was so close. But a part of
me knew the futility. That she was beyond me. That if she truly lost
her balance, I was helpless. I couldn't get there in time, even if I
could walk on air."
Reviewed by Carol Reid
Ron MacLean's stories hover and dip through levels of reality. Many
present a search for solace and faith, especially within the uncertain
confines of family relationships. Others resist easy categorization and
experiment with form and story structure.
The opening and closing stories deal with parental devotion and
overwhelming anxiety. Mothers are cast in secondary roles, leaving the
narrators - fathers of extraordinary daughters - struggling and baffled
but deeply committed to their paternal responsibilities.
In The Aerialist,
a widower contends with his fears for his daughter's safety and her
fearlessness. His relationship with his deceased wife, with whom he
continues to speak, fully aware that she is not there, is a wonderful
aspect of this story. In the "real world" the family is haunted by the
mental instability of his wife's brother and the possible consequences
of the brother's developing relationship with five-year-old Katie,
whose natural place in the world appears to be above it.
There's nothing in the book our paediatrician gave us about tightrope
walking as a normal developmental phase. I checked. Sat in my den and
pored over the text, searching for clues. I was willing to make a
reach. It didn't have to specifically mention tightropes. I might have
settled for any inclination toward a circus act. But nothing.
Here, and elsewhere, MacLean breaks a new path through familiar ground.
The concept of shared dreams takes on a literal and quite dark aspect
Father and teenaged daughter juggle feelings of connection, violation
and confusion arising from dream omens of injury and death. Anxiety
escalates as dream details insinuate themselves into waking life. Here,
again, the territory is recognisable but made to feel new, thanks to
MacLean's gimlet eye for psychological truth.
He badgers here into telling him about the dream, after he learns she's
had it again. Saturday morning, over oatmeal … He tells Emily he's had
the same dream.
"There's a sense of water, right?"
fragments and vignettes convey the feeling of things falling apart
which follow disaster and habitual fear. The radio guy says the government's official reports on the events of
September 11 is so huge that two dozen staff investigators will not be
able to read it in their lifetime.The characters here all carry a chunk of this ponderous burden. None can
accept the possibility of safety.
"Yeah, but no actual water," she says.
They explore the events. Other than the location, the dream is
Her face flushes.
"Don't do that," she says. "Don't copy me."
"What does that mean?" he says. A radiator hisses and clanks. The house
is old, and slow to warm.
"Besides, I had it first."
"You don't know that."
Consciousness swirls in circles for Ellen, the central character of Mile Marker 283.
She appears to be living with some form of brain injury, narcolepsy,
amnesia or a combo plate of all three. Her alternating confusion and
lucidity is beautifully depicted through recurring images and
variations of its themes.
Like the title of one of its oddest selections, each story in this
collection follows its own Strange
Trajectory, and each offers a winding path through the
inexplicable - an unusual and refreshing journey.
Download an excerpt from this collection at Swank Books