Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Kate Reviews: Valparaiso, Round the Horn

Valparaiso, Round the Horn by Madeleine ffitch
4 stars
Pages: 246
Publisher: Publishing Genius Press
Released: August 2014

Guest review by Kate Vane

It’s taken me a while to write this review and these stories have grown in my mind since I read them. They are engaging, funny and a little strange, and it takes a while to absorb the complexity that underlies them.

The author has a very distinctive prose style. There is a beautiful rhythm to the writing. This hits you from the first sentence of the first story, a long, meandering statement that includes three lines of dialogue. Grammar geeks might lie awake wondering if it even is a sentence. I just wanted to keep reading and find out where it would take me.

The characters in these stories are outsiders. Sometimes they have rebelled, but often they stand apart from others without conscious choice, or even awareness. They look at the world aslant but they are rounded and real, never kooky or contrived. Their difference is echoed in the distinctive prose and the sly, surprising humour.

The narrator of “A Sow, on the Lam” is an academic monitoring the decline into extinction of a turtle so unappreciated that even her fellow marine biologists are content to let its demise pass unmarked. She is thrilled when a public radio journalist comes to cover the turtles’ story but the journalist is more interested in the pig farmers whose work is destroying the turtles’ habitat.

In “Fort Clatsop” a girl lives with her father who works at a progressive school as a janitor (or as they would have it, custodian). He tells her vivid stories about his past and rails against the “plain people”. When her teacher makes the class write about why they would like to be a janitor (custodian), the girl suddenly sees her father as others see him.

In “The Big Woman” a man is caught between worlds. He is building the dream home of an overachieving obsessive who makes him shout out what he is doing as he performs each task, in the name of productivity. He lives uneasily next to a family of thieves. All the while he is waiting for his own dream to be fulfilled by a big woman coming out of the woods.

Be warned, these stories, with their insistent rhythm and unique perspective, stay with you like a tune you can’t get out of your head.

Kate Vane writes crime and literary fiction. Her latest novel is Not the End. She lives on the Devon coast in the UK.

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