Tag Archives: short fiction

The Dahlia Field – Henry Alley (Chelsea Station Editions)

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As any regular reader of this blog knows, I’m a huge fan of short fiction and will always dive headfirst into an anthology or a single author collection. I won’t like everything in a volume, but if the author/s and I connect ten times out of twelve or thirteen, that’s pretty successful. I know relationships based on more tenuous bonds. But what happens when the connection rate is less than optimal? Is it a bad book? Bad author? Bad reader? Those are a few of the questions I ask myself as I write this and stare at the cover of Henry Alley’s collection, The Dahlia Field.

I’d started this eagerly, having read the blurb and peeked at the titles in the Table of Contents. The author and I have some commonalities. We’re about the same age and, thus, have had a lot of shared experiences.  Logically, we should have connected more often than the few stories that worked for me, but art is hardly logical, is it?

It’s not like we didn’t understand each other, either. It’s hard to miss the disconnection and longing inherent in “Ashland,” for example, which sees a man named Earl attending the performance of a play parodying King Lear, written by his gay son. It isn’t until he attends the AIDS fundraiser afterward that he learns his son is positive, a fact he confirms by telephone the next morning. Similarly, “To Come Home To” looks at boredom and new beginnings as house painter Garrett leaves his previously depressed fledgling stage star boyfriend Ethan. Both these should have struck sparks, but neither was particularly engaging to me. Unfortunately, that was true for most of the other stories here.

That said, Alley and I did connect on the last two stories: “My March on Washington,” a wonderfully bittersweet romance that takes place during the 1963 civil rights march, and “Would You Mind Holding Down My Body?,” a well-observed story of how a straight/gay friendship does or doesn’t weather one of the two guys coming out. The latter story has two of the most interesting and complex characters in the book and seemed to have a different set of nuances and a completeness the others lacked to some degree or other.

Aha, I thought. We just needed some time to connect. So, I re-read the first story, “Border Guards,” in hopes of being able kindle some interest, but a glass wall seemed to go up once again. Nevertheless, if you’re a lover of short fiction, this might just be your cuppa as Alley is a writer worth reading. We may not have hit it out of the park, but that doesn’t mean you won’t discover a new voice or find something here I couldn’t. And, as I said, the last two stories really were marvelous.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Eros and Dust: Stories – Trebor Healey (Lethe Press)

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I picture three Trebor Healeys.

The dense forest hides many more, but three in particular creep out from the between the trees most often: one poetic, one crazed with lust, and one shaggy with heat and dust. A fourth one, regretful and elegiac, can also be relied upon for regular appearances. When all of them work in concert as they did in 2012 for A Horse Named Sorrow or Faun, their combined power is formidable. But the shorter pieces such as those found in his recent Lethe release, Eros and Dust: Stories, reveal the strength of those beasts on a more individual level.

That boy-crazed one may be the most prevalent, reigning supreme in “Los Angeles,” about a Chaturbate addict and a plan gone horribly wrong, the psuedo-pedophiliac “Lolito,” and the definitely pedophiliac “The Pancake Circus.” The latter is particularly disturbing, not for how off-track the narrator’s dick drives him, but for the way his Clown Daddy normalizes an abhorrent act. The metaphor is strong any time but becomes nearly prescient when seen in light of the current political situation.

Actually, this musk pervades all Healey’s stories as flawed characters use faulty reasoning to make bad choices. We’ve all been there, right? One of the differences between Healey’s longer fiction and his short stories is that very often the protagonists of the latter don’t get a chance at the redemption the heroes of his novels do–an odd omission due to the Catholicism exuded by these tales. It’s not that redemption isn’t possible (and I’m thinking for the narrators of “Los Angeles” and “Lolito” in particular); it’s just not presented as an option.

The horny Healey is usually flanked by the shaggy one, the hot grit he exudes providing a dusty, transient backdrop that serves the author well. Whether the setting is parched Los Angeles, the Oaxacan desert, or a PV resort, the Santa Ana winds blow hot on the heels of his characters. Going to the heat, getting out of the heat, dealing with the heat–all motivations that make these characters as restless as their lust.

The poetic one pokes his delicate nose in all stories as well, but makes memorable appearances in the character sketch “El Santo” and the transient restlessness of “Pilgrim Soul,” but again, this one’s influence is everywhere–especially on the too-short “Puppets”:

I started seeing his puppets all over the place…he made puppets who took pills and were cathetered; he made demon and angel puppets; puppets of crack whores and drag queens, muscle boys and campesinos; puppets in gabardine suits and puppets in silk kimonos. He made puppets of political personalities–Jesse Helms, Reagan and Bush, the Pope–and he made monstrous puppets named HIV and PCP, KS and CMV–big ogreish things with arms to their ankles and enormous malformed dicks. With big sad eyes. They looked back at me hungrily out of lit-up windows in darkened, empty shops on Guerrero or Valencia Street long after midnight, the fog sifting down, enveloping everything–all the streetlights like dandelion seeds.

And there’s that pesky, elegiac Healey, bringing forth his solemn reflections in the middle of the bawdiest episode to remind you that life reveals its most serious sides in quirky ways. Thus, the aforementioned “The Pancake Circus” becomes more an elegy to lost innocence than what its surface indicates. That’s the way the fourth dude works. Sometimes you don’t notice his effects until a couple of stories pass or until the whole thing plays out (“Imp”) and then his part in the liturgy becomes apparent.

Each voice is as distinctive in solo as it is an essential component of the blend. Truly a marvelous trick to pull off, and Trebor Healey does so. Highly recommended.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

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