Tag Archives: short fiction

Much More Than Half

CBR_Logo2Meet Me Halfway:
Milwaukee Stories
by Jennifer Morales

When Johnquell, a  seventeen-year-old African-American with a college scholarship, passes away after a gruesome accident in his white neighbor’s home, his community must find ways to bridge the gaps between races, ages, and orientations in their neighborhood. In nine linked short stories, Jennifer Morales untangles the complicated relationships among African-American and Puerto Rican teens and their white classmates and teachers, Vietnam vets, Latino landlords, former Black Panthers, and all their sprawling families as they search for common ground.meet me halfway

Morales’s collection is truly masterful, diving deep into her characters and layering them one on top of another to weave the vibrant tapestry of the Rust Belt neighborhood. Each of the nine stories highlights a different member of the community, and the author fully develops each, inhabiting the unique and believable voices of a grade school girl, an elderly racist neighbor, a sexually confused middle-aged woman, and many others. Morales’s thorough fearlessness extends beyond the voices of the characters; she penetrates the contemporary culture of racism and bigotry in a way that elicits empathy and demands respect from even the most detached of readers.

But Meet Me Halfway accomplishes something that many race stories don’t: This collection doesn’t divide good from evil, but paints the community in endless shades of gray. In the first chapter, readers are introduced to an elderly woman who cannot fathom why her best friend would go out of her way to cook dinner for her black neighbors. Later on, though, Morales tells this woman’s own story, and we see her as a widow rattling around in a too-large house, struggling to come to terms with her age as her family pressures her to move into an assisted-living facility. In no way does Morales excuse or undermine the bigotry her book addresses; rather, she villainizes the behavior while portraying its perpetrators as complex, multidimensional human beings. In this way, because no one “antagonist” is beyond repair, there is hope for a better future.

Meet Me Halfway has already been chosen as the Common Reading Experience for the incoming class at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and this is a title that truly deserves that recognition. Morales, who lives in Wisconsin, tells a Wisconsin story—a Midwest story—using one of the country’s most segregated cities as a backdrop. But the fact is that her message is evergreen and universally relevant, and her approach is gentle and insistent, preaching a vision of the future that makes room for every voice and every creed.

Four-Star Review

April 2015, Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press
Fiction/Short Stories
$19.95, paperback, 192 pages
ISBN: 978-0299303648

—Reviewed by Sarah Weber

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A Sensory Feast

CBR_Logo2Weeping with an Ancient God
A Novella
by Ted Morrissey

Ted Morrissey’s Weeping with an Ancient God is a fictional revision of Herman Melville’s own telling of his time spent amongst cannibals. The story begins with Melville and his friend Toby trapped on an island, unable to speak the native language, and unaware of what exactly the cannibals want from them. They over time try to devise a plan to escape.

weeping-with-an-ancient-god-front-coverMorrissey does a great job at the beginning with establishing the isolation of the main character. Immediately the reader is introduced to heavy sensory detail as Melville awakens to darkness and heat, pain throbbing in his leg, remembering whom he now lives among. This tone of darkness is carried throughout, with only small dollops of light. The darkness is found not just amongst Melville’s relationships with the cannibals, or his entrapment on the island, but within his own mind as well. Morrissey lays out a quick page of exposition about how Melville and Toby have come to find themselves on the island. This is done effectively and doesn’t impact the near flawless pace.

Considering the plot takes place some time after Melville has already arrived on the island, it doesn’t feel as if the reader is being tossed into some situation in complete confusion. The story takes its time as Melville goes about the people, trying to understand their customs and what they want from him. There’s always an understanding of what’s happening and who is where, and the movement of the characters flows at a comfortable speed. This also applies to the use of dialogue throughout. None of it feels useless; it all in some way helps the story progress. Only in the last couple chapters does the story lose its rhythm with its climax.

Through Melville, the reader gets strong visuals of the other characters and place. Characters are introduced in great physical description, nothing is left out from head to toe. The beauty of the island (and its few hidden horrors) are also shown in great detail; from the array of colors, vegetation, old bones, and wildlife that are amongst the people, there is rarely a moment where the reader could question what something looks like. The gestures of the characters are also very clear; whether it involves how someone eats a piece of meat or how someone attacks another, the movement is clear and to the point.

With these strong details and a mostly well-balanced pace, the reader is able to dive into the isolation that Melville suffers from. Melville’s questioning of the humanity of these cannibals, and of himself, is apparent through the dialogue (internal and external), and by what he witnesses. The writing here is done with solid purpose to make a concise story. An interesting read for those who are already fans of Melville and are interested in seeing a side of the man behind Moby Dick. In Weeping with an Ancient God there is a full story with no detail to miss. Other than an ending chapter where things could be slowed down slightly, this is an enticing read. It stands as a great little work of existential crisis and isolation, of a man lost at sea.

Three-Star Review

August 2014, Twelve Winters Press
Fiction
$12.99, paperback, 162 pages
ISBN: 978-0989515160

Reviewed by Michael Pementel

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Doorways to the Domestic Scene

CBR_Logo2Remedies for Hunger:
Stories
by Anara Guard

Anara Guard’s second collection of short stories showcases the experiences and emotions of the domestic scene. The book’s cover is an array of windows and doors, which represents the content within. Guard explores the complexity, the weirdness, and the heartache of what happens in the home among family and significant others. She embraces how quirky and funny life can be but also mixes the humor with life’s inevitable sadness and disappointment. Reading these stories is like walking through the house next door, with its everyday miracles and betrayals, both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

Remedies coverGuard grew up in Chicago and attended the Urban Gateways Young Writers Workshop. Her story “Homecoming” contains recognizable Chicago tourist locations, bus routes, and roads. It is an emotional story of hard truths. The main character, Cathy, spends a hot summer day at Grant Park selling jewelry. Cathy is pregnant and living an unsteady life. After a betrayal, Cathy turns to her past: “But as she turned and left the apartment, retreating down the stairs, she could hear the word thumping on each step up through the soles of her bare feet: home, home, home” (130). “Homecoming” portrays how some people remember their childhood homes—like a fairytale—and the undeniable reality of how ephemeral and brutal those memories can be.

Guard’s other stories are on the shorter side, with some stories spanning only three pages, but every word counts. Guard packs each paragraph with moments, and each narrator’s voice is strong. Guard dives into the story in “Neighbors” with a rebellious narrator:

Don’t start with me. I know I should quit but I had worked the late shift again, Joe was after me the rest of the night, and I felt like my blood was jiggling inside my arms and legs. (19)

The narrator views her world and the family next door from the front steps. She is both daring and vulnerable, sturdy and tired. This story emphasizes windows and doorways and the way they serve as snapshots of life. “Neighbors” examines interesting questions about the revealing nature of daily activities, from getting dressed to sitting outside the front door. What stories do we tell our neighbors with our actions? How do doors and windows define us and our lives?

One of the strongest stories is actually the shortest. “Georgia” is a haunting story of family history and death. The sentences are clipped and without flowery details. The child narrator describes things as they are, pointing out how unsettling and poignant a child’s perspective of death can be. There is rhythm to this story, and the cyclical motion of it is dizzying and delightful to read. The scene where the narrator visits the cemetery consists of short sentences of mostly action, creating a beautiful moment:

When we visit, we all become quiet. Our father pulls rotting leaves out of the birdbath and drops them into a sad little pile. Some of the birdbath’s little tiles have come loose, leaving rough spots. We hunt around in the brown grass to see if we can find any. Our little sister tries to find the most. Daddy slips them into his pocket, bright squares of red and blue and green. (15)

Guard’s stories are a pleasure to read. These short stories are powerful and memorable, and although not long, they require time for reflection. Readers likely will recognize themselves in these stories, which evoke childhood memories that will feel familiar. These stories are luscious food for thought, and it will be very interesting to see how Guard continues to explore the domestic in her future work.

Four-Star Review

August 2014, New Wind Publishing
Short Fiction
$12, paperback, 140 pages
ISBN: 978-1-929777-06-8

—Reviewed by Lyndsie Manusos

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