What Doesn't
Kill You
 Ed. Murray Dunlap and Kevin Morgan Watson

Press 53, 2010
Paperback







"When I got dizzy and fell. I tried to stop my fall by grabbing a hand towel. It slowed me down but then my weight kicked in and the towel bar came flying out of the wall. . . When I thought, as I was pulling myself up to the seat, “Why is my life like this?"


Reviewed by David Woodruff

In the introduction to What Doesn’t Kill You, 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:
'We 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.
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 Dunlap’s words:
When 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.
And later…
When 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.
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:
Goody 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.
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.

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.

If 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.

David's other Short Reviews: Ursula Le Guin  and Brian Attebery (eds) "The Norton Book of Science Fiction" 

Gardner Dozois (ed) "Galileo's Children" 

Allison Amend "Things that Pass for Love" 

The Inkermen "Green and Unpleasant Land" 

Wendy Marcus "Polyglot, Stories from the West's Wet Edge"

Joseph Young "Easter Rabbit"
                     
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Authors Rusty 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 stories have 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.