Whether walking alongside surrealist poet Rene Crevel (Subtle Bodies), forging his own fictional path (The City’s Gates), or approaching life as recipes in a grimoire (Conjure: A Book of Spells), Peter Dube’s work always provides a literary perspective that carries weight and importance, dazzling his readers with his facility with language and his ability to straddle the line between reality and dream state. The ten stories comprising Beginning With the Mirror mine much the same territory to marvelous effect.
Though more conventional than Conjure, conventional is a relative term as applied to Dube. The first four stories ground the reader in Dube’s approach to storytelling, linked by the fact that they’re all about the elements: “Blazon” (fire), “Tides” (water), “Funnel Cloud” (air), and “Furrow” (earth), their narrators recalling childhood incidents which continue to haunt their adult lives. But no matter how well-written, a quadriptych does not a book make, and Dube has other tricks up his sleeve.
Everything here has something to recommend it, be it the style, the metaphor, the thought, or an admiration of the rhythm of the language. Plot? Yes, but always secondary to character and voice. Bones to carry their flesh. But when Dube’s characters move, they strike sparks–as in the violent and twisty “Needle,” where Drake recalls a brutal affair with Blue as he’s getting a tattoo. What that tattoo says is as surprising as the ending. Brilliantly mean and absolutely fascinating. I also enjoyed the quiet “Drifts,” which sees love between boys from two rival tribes as our civilization morphs into one far more disconnected than the current incarnation due to a true extinction level snowpocalypse, as well as the Poe-inspired “Corvidae.”
But the most delicious of all these morsels, “Vision,” has a man named Cam attending the death watch for close friend Dean, who is convinced–in his painkiller fog–that demons are coming for him. Transitioning effortlessly between the real and the fantastic, Dube creates their Venn diagram and stakes out the territory in the middle as his character’s point of view. Even at the end, you won’t be sure what the truth of the matter is.
As with Dube’s other work, a close reading will be a rewarding one. I have always enjoyed his palette of language and the way he polishes his extended metaphors until they glisten. These ten stories leave you with much to think about as well as admire.
© 2014 Jerry L. Wheeler