In response to Ted Pelton's "August Challenge" of a few post posts back, I present a review of a Starcherone Press book.
The author, Christopher Prater, composed the review for the literary journal Potion, which subsequently decided not to publish reviews.
And so, I am extremely happy to present it here, for your enjoyment.
An Alternative to Meeting New Friends
Review of Aimee Parkison, Woman With Dark Horses (Starcherone Books, 2004) $16
Writing is just an illusion, right? Well Aimee Parkison makes me doubt this otherwise sensible conclusion in her debut short-story collection Woman With Dark Horses. Parkison connects her readers to a sense of loneliness through realistic characters who invariably fail to understand their lives. For instance, the narrator of “Blue Train Summer” admits, as if during a bar conversation, “At night, I thought if I murdered someone, I could probably get away with it, no big deal. But if I tried to love someone, people would think I had done something wrong.”
Parkison’s skill rests in her ability to paint unique characters onto a series of stories with similarly bleak palettes. This chorus line of colorful blues are reminiscent of Orr from Catch-22, because, as with Heller’s crash-obsessed character’s inexplicable desire to cram crab apples into his cheeks, the awkwardness of Parkinson’s characters sticks with the reader long after the book returns to the shelf. Such mealy characters include twins with eerie similarities to the creepy duo in “The Shining;” a boy cleverly disguised with a mustache who climbs into the narrow space between walls; and a girl who collects the detritus of her broken life—a garage door opener, her mother’s wedding ring, strands of her father’s beard—in memory of her dead parents.
For all the sullen docility of her players, Parkinson also fabricates a host of haunting images that linger like embarrassing childhood memories: a wife sipping foam from her dead husband’s mouth (“My Exhibit in the Blue Museum”); a suicidal teenager sitting naked in a room of mirrors while sketching her deformities (“Corolla”); a worm feeding on the dirt of a man’s chin (“Corolla”); and a cat sticking its head inside a boy’s mouth, sniffing remnants of toothpaste (“The Answer”).
Parkison’s style does not require elaborate language to impress. Her candid sentences fit the loneliness of her protagonists’ wounded psyches. In “Blue Train Summer” she needs only three sentences to capture the mood: “When I examined the dead girl’s arms, I found a small red heart tattooed on her left shoulder. A thin arrow was drawn through that heart. Underneath the tattoo, the scrawled letters carved into her skin read NOBODY’S GIRL.” Such is her effectively bleak imagery, like a raw wound, unconcealed by verbose, adjective-filled gobbets.
Ultimately, Woman with Dark Horses is not restricted to this measured style. In two of the stories, Parkinson’s stylistic experiments become change-ups that wonderfully diversify the lonely prose. In “My Exhibit in the Blue Museum,” time and place vacillate like erratic teenaged memories—Miami 1999; L.A. 1984; Dallas 1990; Amsterdam 1972—leading the reader to always wonder “where next?” In “The Answer,” Parkison’s story offers only questions: “Little man, can I kiss your mouth? Can I kiss your feet, your toes at one time? Can I comb the blood out of your hair?”
Woman with Dark Horses is not a collection of feel-good stories, but the reader will appreciate her shining characterization that make this issue even more moot than usual. Her creations linger on the page for moments of introspective quiet, before prancing right off the margin.
Christopher Prater graduated from Lake Forest College with a B.A. in chemistry and English and is currently a medical student at Michigan State University. In the past year, he has volunteered in an orphanage in Nepal, a Liberian refugee camp in Ghana, and an elementary school in Kenya.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org