by Annabel Lyon
Porcupine's Quill Press, 2000
usually the best part – just think of how many Oreo’s have met
their fate being devoured from the inside out. But too much middle
can be problematic - set-up and resolution are important not only
for food, but for prose as well.
of the traditional beginning / middle / conclusion is that the shorter
the work, be it play, movie, or prose, the more economy must be
exercised by the author – any description or character must serve
the point of the story or else it will become a distraction.
approach is like this: rather than breezing through a fully-developed
story with half-baked characters (or vice-versa), she packs as
much as she can into the middle and leaves the reader pondering
what happened before and after the given situation. Not that the
reader is left frustrated with unresolved circumstances; rather
doors and windows of opportunity are thrown wide open to a huge
expanse of possibility.
she gives us 14 situations, all of which began and end suddenly:
the dilemma faced when variety-store owners comprise their lofty
ideals when they decide to stock adult movies, to strange apartment
dwellers, to the murder of an old lady told by each of the three
involved parties, to an anorexic medical student, to how an irresponsible
family abandons their children on the people next door.
the quick-entry into a story can be a little disorienting but
her prose is riveting, often using ingenious turns of phrase that
manage to capture the essence of an event. Sometimes the story
suffers when the turns of phrase fall flat. It's personal how
you'll respond to her phrases - my wife and I were reading the
book at the same time and we'd disagree over which phrases clicked
and which didn't.
14 middles - most of which barely exceed a handful of pages, Lyon
offers up a novella. My fear was that the longer work would be
just a short work stretched out to fill out the pages. The story
involves the relationship between two couples and, rather than
relying on turns of phrase to propel the story, Lyon has the story
shifting between past, present, and future events. The story develops
at a very even and relaxed pace and Lyon demonstrates she can
maintain the same pace over the longer haul as she can for her
The only knock,
and it's a minor one, against Lyon's collection is that it can
be hard to keep the stories separate if read one after the other
without a pause between them - I found myself flipping back to
the beginning of the story to keep the characters straight. Just
like too many Oreo's can make your stomach sick, these stories
should be enjoyed one at a time.
Harms is a philosopher who lives in Waterloo, Ontario.