Yet another treasure found in the used books section on AbeBooks. And yet again I missed while buying it to register that I’m buying a collection of short stories. Those of you who have been visiting this blog for a while know that it’s not my favorite thing. Still since it’s just five stories and a play I decided to give it a shot. Especially that I was in need fo good fiction after reading four quite serious non-fiction books.
As it happens with the collection of short stories, they were very different, you may say uneven, but I think it’s just that when the mood changes so often our brain struggles to adapt, or at least mine does. But there was also something connecting them, not in the plot sense, more an atmosphere, like an undercurrent. They all shared a certain form of hopelessness, darkness, and violence hiding under the very surface of things.
As if people were just waiting for the last final push to abandon all pretenses of civilization and descend into howling madness. Literally, no one is happy in those stories, everyone suffers and is damaged. If they’re not then they’re evil and they dish the suffering to others. Those are stories about the poor people who have been pushed to the edge, about petty criminals pushed to cross over completely, because there is no hope for the world to become better. There’s no hope in fighting the good cause, as it will be lost anyway, so they give up and cross over after everything has been taken away from them.
It is a book about bad choices, about paranoia, about losing control of one’s life. Violent, gritty, tragic. Because we still root for those people, we want them to have some hope. But in the world Lehane gives us and them, there is none. It can only get darker. If there are glimmers of human connection they are just a passing thing. We cling to them only to become even more disappointed in the end. Violence and revenge abound. Even if we know the revenge will not give the expected respite, it will only uncover the naked truth that what’s least is lost, and never coming back.
It certainly was not a cheerful read, but a very atmospheric one. I was drawn, I cared about the characters. And putting the short story Until Gwen, right next to Coronado, the play it evolved into was a really nice touch, as it also gives us a glimpse into the way Lehane works on a story and develops the text.
Other collections of short stories I read, in no particular order:
Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf
Czekoladki dla Prezesa by Sławomir Mrożek
East of the West by Miroslav Penkov
Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales by Margaret Atwood
Schönhauser Allee by Wladimir Kaminer
Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson
Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson