Thursday, October 22, 2015
Book Review: Moon Up, Past Full
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended for fans of short stories that climb up off the page and play themselves out right there next to you
Publisher: Alternating Current Press
Released: October 2015
Eric Shonkwiler is quickly making his way up my list of all time favorite authors. Jose Saramago, Jules Verne, Cormac McCarthy, Vladimir Nabokov, and David Maine have been holding on to the Top Five spots on that list for a very long time, with Denis Johnson as an extremely close sixth. These guys (yes, I'm fully aware of the fact that they are all guys, thanks) won't be easily displaced. But if Eric keeps writing the way he has been, he's going to give those writers a run for their money.
Last January, if you remember, I had kicked off 2014 by reading Eric's Above All Men, and within the first few pages I was already referring to it as my favorite read of the year. I gushed about his incredible control over language and setting. About the subtle tension and intensity of his words. About how he kept me on tenderhooks nearly the entire time.
And for those of you who may have worried about whether or not he'd fall victim to a sophomore slump, Eric's second release, a collection of short stories titled Moon Up, Past Full, is just as sparse and beautifully written. Where his debut novel dealt with the onset of a national apocalypse, these stories feature individual apocalypses of the mind.
Now, a few of the stories were already familiar to me. I first read Frequencies Between - where a woman suffers from audible hallucinations, not of voice, but of sounds, which grow in intensity as she reaches her destination, like a beacon of bad things to come - on Go Read Your Lunch. Chindi - a story about a local reservation cop and his troublemaking brother - won the 2015 Luminaire Award for Best Prose. And Rene - which is set in the way-backwoods of the midwest, featuring a woman whose nose won't stop bleeding and the trip she and her daughter take to pay a visit to the witch doctor - initially appeared in Fiddleblack as a serialized novelette.
Go on ahead and check those stories out. Just follow those links. I'll wait here while you do. Take your time.
See what I mean about apocalypses of the mind? The stories are tender and patient but powerful. They are sneaky and wiley. The characters hurt and ache, but it's below the surface. And they ignore the warning signs until it's too late. They struggle and yet in Eric's hands, they seem so safe.
My favorite stories are the darkest ones. Yeah, yeah. No surprises there, right?!
I adored For the Man After Me for its dark nature. There is death but it is not immediate. There is internal struggle but it is born out of the fear of getting caught, not out of the war between what is right and what is wrong.
GO21, by far my favorite, is a zombie story sans the zombies. The tension is on fleek. It is everything you think you'd do and become under threat of an apocalypse when you aren't entirely sure what the apocalypse is. It's about being one of the last men standing, no matter what horrible things you have to do to get there.
And No Toil, No Tranquility pangs the heart muscle a bit, unless you have no heart and if that's the case, you really shouldn't be reading this collection. It's about the choices we make and what any one of us would become if we were haunted by the same shitty ghosts.
Eric continues to astound and amaze me with the way he lifts the Midwest up and off the page. His characters climb right out of his stories and plop down next to you on the couch. They are speaking directly to you. They shrug and hold their palms up. They demand your forgiveness. They play on your humanity. They got a shit deal and they played it the best way they could. They are all running from something. And they are all running towards something else. And in the end, we are left wondering whether the past they are leaving behind would have been better than the future they are barrelling headfirst into.