Ed. Murray Dunlap and Kevin Morgan Watson
Press 53, 2010
by David Woodruff
In the introduction to What Doesn’t
we learn where editor Murray Dunlap got his idea to start a collection
of stories (and some nonfiction pieces) that revolve around despair,
struggle, and breaking points. He was a marathon runner before someone
ran a red light and pushed him into an oncoming SUV. This tragic
incident put him in a wheelchair for the rest of life, something which
Dunlap mentions in the introduction, and in his prose poem Times I Nearly Died,
that also appears in the book.
The collection not only revolves around hard times, those points where
it is so easy to fall from the edge, but also delineates the coping
mechanisms, the human defenses that one uses to move on. Here and
there, we find if not exactly a happy ending, at least a hopeful one.
For example, in Jane Bradley’s, Are
We Lucky Yet,
a young woman is trying to get her life back together after making a
long series of mistakes. The protagonist ends up
considering love as the cure, fallible to be sure, for this
imperfect world. Or in her words:
In Island by Rhett Iseman
Trull and Times I Nearly Died,
by Murray Dunlap, the two nonfiction pieces in the anthology, the
endurance and strength of the human spirit is evident. Neither piece
succumbs to sentimentality, yet each rings with authority, with
the authenticity of someone who has "been there and back." Or in Murray
are lucky,' I said and I kissed Lacey Dawn. 'We are lucky.' I said
again, and told myself to keep saying those words until I could really
feel them to be true.
I was jogging, then hit by a car, and my body flipped up onto the hood.
My face pressed to the glass, inches from the driver’s face, when the
driver slammed on the brakes, catapulting me off the hood and into the
street. I never found my radio.
One of this reviewer’s personal favorites is a cleverly-crafted piece
titled Thin Bits of Evidence,
by Julie Gard. It lists an assortment of objects from a thrift shop - a
Smiling Squirrel Pin for 40¢, JC Penney Button Covers also for 40¢, a
Wooden Smokey the Bear Ruler for 10¢ - and then ties them to the story
of how their deranged neighbor tried to burn their house down one
summer. Here’s an excerpt:
my brother told me that the name of his little girl, who was in my
arms, was Allison. I smiled, and looked up, and said, 'All right,
Shane, she is fine. Don’t need to worry about her.
Another gem is Looking at Animals
by Josh Goldfaden. Here we are given a peek into the solitary life of
Raymond, a retired photographer for National Geographic, who learned
how to become invisible in order to do his job shooting wild animals.
Raymond has never acquired interpersonal skills to bring him closer to
people. Instead, he sneaks into their homes to observe them. He also
improves their quality of life by fixing things for them, while they
can’t observe him. Meanwhile, a boy is observing him, in fact, stalking
him. It seems the boy believes that Raymond needs fixing.
Foam Rollers, 10 Large, 50 Cents.
We decide the house put out the fire,
good spirits from 1896. I can sit on the porch again this spring as the
elm buds green and thicken. Last year I gave him an Easter basket; we
were grateful for his work in the yard. How stupid that now appears. He
is gone, and no one watches me plan a life in another town. As he
wished, we will not forget him. The mind does not close without
opening. Neither does the world.
There are also moments of dark comedy in the collection. Between the Teeth
by David James Poissant is a story told by a man who is married to both
a woman and her beagle. It’s almost as if the beagle treats the man
like an intruder in his own home. And this is how his faithless wife
comes to see him, too. Later, the man runs over the beagle while
backing his Jeep out of the driveway. But, without giving away the
ending, the dog does not go gentle unto that good night.
pressed to find a nit, I’d say that the writing styles in the anthology
are uneven. Yet, all these pieces are told with heart. They grab the
imagination. What Doesn’t Kill You
might make a reader, if not stronger, very appreciative.
|David Woodruff publishes under the
name Kyle Hemmings, the author of several chapbooks of poems and prose:
Avenue C (Scars Publications), Cat People (Scars Publications), and the
upcoming e-chapbook, Tokyo Girls in Science Fiction (NAP). He has been
published at Gold Wake Press, Thunderclap Press, Blue Fifth Review,
Step Away, Wigleaf, The Other Room, and elsewhere.
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Barnes, Jane Bradley, Stace Budzko, Laura Dave, Murray Dunlap,
Julie Gard, Josh Goldfaden, Yvette Ward-Horner, Marjorie Hudson,
Michael Knight, Ray Morrison, Jan Parker, David James Poissant,
George Singelton, Curtis Smith, Rhett Iseman Trull.
Editor For almost three years, Murray
Dunlap faced the biggest challenge of his life - relearning how to
function after a near-fatal car crash. Disenchanted with the corporate
world he returned to graduate school to focus on creative
writing. His work has appeared in Virginia
Quarterly Review, Post Road,
Night Train, Silent Voices, The Bark, and many others. His
been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as Best New
American Voices, and his first book, Alabama, was a finalist for the
Maurice Prize in Fiction.