Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Mechanics of Falling

Disclaimer and other such babbling: Since I made the decision to post my email address on this page, I've received a number of marketing appeals. It seems the blog is the way of the future in terms of advertising, be it a used car website or a new form of cell phone mediated dating. I even received an email offering me free tampons... in return for a review of my experiences with them on this site. (I can feel the massive sighs of disappointment that I declined this gracious offer). 

However, recently, I received an offer that appeared legitimate-- to review a book (and not a self-help book... as recently discussed, I simply don't do those). The premise was simple- I get a free copy of the book in exchange for a review of it. An honest review, even- believe it or not, I will not sell my soul for $30 or so. Even better, it seems like Trish of TLC Book Tours had actually given my blog a read before sending me the offer- unlike the clandestine singles meeting via cell phone fellow- as it was a book that looked to genuinely appeal to me. Hence why I am harkening back a few years in what I hope doesn't sound too much like a book report...


I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with short stories. On the one hand, they can remind me too much of high school, in their attempts to pour gallons of symbolism into a few pages. On the other hand, it can be a little delicious to consume an entire take in one sitting, with no pauses or bathroom breaks. 

Still, though, if a short story is well-written, with engaging characters, it can be a disarming process to consume a whole tale at once. I am the type of person who feels there is a ceremony in reading. I can't merely close a book and pick up the next one. I wait at least a day to let it simmer. If there is nothing leftover to simmer, it is likely they had very little substance to begin with.

The stories in Catherine Brady's The Mechanics of Falling need time to simmer. It isn't that they are overly convoluted and need deciphering, but rather that you can't simply turn the page at their conclusion and move onto the next one. You feel as though you owe the characters more than that. In fact, one of my only complaints about this set of stories is that they end too abruptly sometimes. Then again, in a book about falling, it would be a little deceptive to not have these tales conclude a little like hitting the ground. As a reader, though, it takes a few minutes to reflect on that sudden tumble, to imagine how the character then picks themselves off the ground.

This is a collection of eleven stories, of an amazingly diverse set of characters, from a man who abandons his family to dedicate his life to Christ and a homeless shelter, to a family overcome by the realities of a house that seems dedicated to drowning and overwhelming them, to a college drop-out caught up in a tangled sort of romance with a horse trainer. In some ways, they are linked by the depth of the seemingly most ordinary of events. These are not stories of epic romances, or disasters, or confrontations, but rather the nuances of real life, and the fact that these little idiosyncrasies may have greater effects than the massive crises we see in the news or depicted in blockbuster films. They are also tales linked by, as quoted in the book jacket, "moments when the seemingly fixed coordinates of our existence abruptly give way." They are on the verge of a very real fall, prepared or not.

One of my favourite stories is "Slender Little Things", the tale of Cerise, a single mother, and her precocious daughter. The essence of the story is woven masterfully through the very first paragraph, with each sentence later linking to another segment of the story. Cerise struggles in her relationship with her 16 year old daughter, Sophie, as shown in the segment below:
Sophie was not closing her first over some last small thing, not relinquishing but multiplying her needs. No longer was she satisfied for Cerise to simply crush a spider's body with a balled up tissue. Sophie was sure it had been a female spider, its body full of microscopic eggs, and Cerise must wash the wall with disinfectant, or hundreds of baby spiders would hatch and come after Sophie. How could Sophie allow that man to touch her? Cerise knew from experience what a man his age wanted from a sixteen-year old girl. A stock boy at the drugstore where Sophie worked after school, a high-school dropout, and the one time Cerise had met him, too lazy to fit his belt through all the belt loops on his baggy jeans. Sophie, who sat up late at night finishing papers and already kept a file for college applications, did not even bother to defend him to Cerise.
The funny thing about these tales is that you forget they are but snippets. Often, I find that I spent the first few pages of a short story trying to place the characters, the setting, get it all lined up in my head. With Brady's stories, within a few pages I'd forgotten it was a short tale I was reading. It was more like a novel, with characters I'd gotten to know over a multitude of chapters. It is a talent to be able to say so much with fewer words.

(You can read an excerpt of another story here, and an interview with Catherine Brady that gives a little more insight onto this collection here. And, of course, you can purchase the book here.)


sour said...

hmmm i wish somebody would send me books to review ... hint hint

also ... i wrote a paper last semester on the use of "they" as a singular gender-neutral pronoun, and talked extensively about neologisms. so bonus points for me!

Wendy said...

Terrific review of this book - I also toured it and loved it. I think Brady has it all right in her you said, they feel more like characters in a novel.

Anonymous said...

"I be reading", lol.

So, the structure of the stories repeats the title of the collection. I like when authors do that. Gives the reader a unique experience.

What kind of books do you normally read?