Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review: The Observable Characteristics of Organisms

Read 12/31/14 - 1/6/15
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of bizarre and bold flash fiction / super short stories
Pages: 145
Publisher: FC2
Released: October 2014

An effective short story always knows when to end itself. It says what needs to be said, politely ushers the reader through the front door when it's done, and closes it tightly behind us.

Ryan MacDonald's somewhat loosely interconnected stories (hello, Havershamp?) capture deceivingly small slices of life that leave rather large impressions on us. Not unlike quick little slaps to the face, the sting of his language is unexpected and his words linger behind like ghosts, filling up the spaces between what we read and what we feel in the hours that follow.

Through his stories, Ryan offers us a rotation of glimpses, parading snippets of his characters' lives before our eyes. And as we experience these moments with him, we have seconds to decide - do we judge or reserve judgement, do we cringe with concern or smile with camaraderie?

A father stores grotesque animal parts in his family's refrigerator in "A Confluence of Occurances"; a man forgets to feed his finches in "A Small Death"; we experience a husband's grief at the hands of his wife's unpleasantness in "Wakefield".  A bored kid plays with a crawdad in "Into the Woods". A little boy finds a mentor in his father's mail-ordered mexican cowboy. Someone finds Richard Gere very grating when in close, confined quarters. A brother and sister secretly revel in the stink of a dead skunk.

Oh yes, reader, beware. Where there be animals, there also be death. Ryan, like so many authors before him, can't seem to have a furry or crustaceous creature in a story without bringing about its death swiftly and (mostly) unnecessarily. Whether we enter the story at the moment of death or are pulled in at the burial scene, these stories struck out at me the strongest because they tended to break my heart the hardest. Well, those and the stories about familial distress (they stuck with me but didn't break my heart). Those mostly elicited snuffs and giggles.

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