Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book Review: The Poor Man's Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide

Read 8/22/14 - 8/24/14
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended for fans of short stories that read like novels and beg for you to hold them and hug them and tell them everything will be ok
Pages: 135
Publisher: Alternating Current Press
Released: July 2014

(Goodreads states that it took me two days to read this book. But you should know that I read the better part of its 135 pages in one sitting. Because once I got started, it was just so hard to put down.)

Damn. I should have started writing the review for this book the moment I finished reading it. I feel as though, flipping through it now, nothing I say at this point will be able to properly capture the spell I was under as I was reading it. That magical grip is gone now... a memory I wish I could call back... sigh.

This is Schuler Benson's debut - a collection of twelve stories that take place in what feels like an intimate southern town where everybody knows everyone else and strangers are never welcome. A place where your past will always haunt you. And a place you just can't seem to escape. It's a place that reeks of hopelessness and suffering. The kind that seeps into your pores and burrows deep inside you.

It's a place Schuler created with pen and paper and yet it lives and breathes on the pages... Location is just as much a character in these stories as his characters are.

The collection is broken out into three parts - The Heart, The Head, The Hands.

The characters in the stories that are filed away under The Heart hold their struggles close to their chest; theirs is a sick love. In Pet Wife, a clouded perception is pulled sharply into focus when an unhappy wife stumbles across an abandoned lawn mower in a field. In the title story, a funeral parlor employee watches a mother grieve strangely over the loss of her little child as he deals with his own strange reaction to the inevitable death of his step-father.

Those stories that are contained with The Head appear to deal with mental illness and broken minds. A beaten woman evolves into something inhuman under the hurtful hands of her husband in Ole Hazel. In Ace Damage, we see the effects of a cult following on a young woman and her adopted brother.

Within The Hands, the pains these people suffer appear to be at their own hand or the hands of others. Queen Anne Black Din outlines the fear and ultimate release of a woman and the group of children she rescues from a shelter during a severe tornado storm. Cleaner Miranda tells the story of a super efficient bulimic woman. And then there's the chair that is set to burning out in the middle of nowhere in Grace.

Through these stories, we are introduced to simple people who wake to find themselves in strange circumstances. And through his soothing, sentimental prose, the pain and prolonged suffering of Benson's characters awakens something inside of us. A tickle of fear, a pinprick of curiosity, an uncomfortable hitch in our chests.

This won't be the last you see of Schuler Benson.

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