Saturday, March 31, 2012

Review: Three Ways of the Saw

Read 3/13/12 - 3/24/12
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of short stories
216 pages
Publisher: Atticus Books

Quite a few years ago, you would have found me turning my head at short story collections.  There was something about the start/stop/start rhythm of the story lines that irked me... but when pressed for a reason why, it's always been hard for me to put a finger on it... a lack of connection maybe, some missing ingredient that seemed to keep me at arms length. No sooner would I get used to the new characters and gain some insight into their current situation than I was ripped out of that story and thrust into another...

Over the past couple of years, however, with my focus shifting more and more towards independent literature, I find myself  accepting more and more short story collections for review. I don't intentionally seek them out but they do appear to have become more common in the independent world. Remember all of those authors and publishers who complained that short story collections don't sell? I'd like to sit them down and hear their defense on that one now...

So why do I bring this up? Well, because I have just finished reading Matt Mullin's debut Three Ways of the Saw, which released on Leap Day. It contains an interesting mix of flash fiction and short stories.. some of which are connected by characters and others that are connected by theme. One of the things that finally sucked me into the realm of short story reviewing, back when I still skeptical, was the interconnectedness or intertwining of characters and story lines within a collection. Why should that make a difference? Well, simply because it felt more like a novel. The characters, though fluid and glimpsed at different periods in their lives, remained constant... or the location and settings would remain constant... so the time I was investing into these stories no longer seemed wasted. There was a commonality that I could hold onto.

Black Sheep Missives, the first section of Three Ways of the Saw, revolves around the antics and guilt-ridden  self consciousness of an Irish Catholic son. Each story delved a little bit deeper into his psyche. Over the course of its 9 stories and 59 pages, you come to understand Dan and the inner-workings of his family life much in the same way you would watch a character unfold across the 2-- pages of a novel.

Discords and Ghost Limbs, the second and third sections, on the other hand, are more or less a mishmash of strange stories. Unfortunately, these stories more or less blended together for me. As I flipped through the book, preparing to write this review, I had a hard time distinguishing one story from another. Only a few jumped out at me while reading through the collection, rising above the pack: The Dog In Me - in which a man's German Shepard starts taking on human qualities while he begins to take on those of the dog - and The Braid - about the dangers of riding an ATV while wearing your hair in a glorious braid. And the title story, Three Ways of the Saw, which can be read in its entirety here. It's the story of a dying tree told in three perspectives - the tree's owner, the owner of the tree service company, and his teenage assistant. The only thing that could have made this story any better would have been a fourth perspective - that of the dying tree.... and yes, I realize that would have screwed up the whole symbolism thing....  Three Ways of the Saw, three sections of the collection... but it would have totally been worth it.

I think the back cover of the arc says it best ... "...this jagged chain of vignettes is for readers who try to hold their thoughts together with duct tape while never quite grasping the things they just can't seem to name". 

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