The epigraph to Above An Abyss, Ryan Masters’ marvellous collection of two beautiful and stunningly juxtaposed novellas, is from Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: ‘The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.’ ‘Trampoline Games’ and ‘The Moth Orchid’ approach this idea of existential precarity from entirely different directions, yet the two stories complement one another in breathtaking, unexpected ways.
‘All at once, Lucy remembered Trevor and began to weep. He would never grow old as she had grown old. His youthful face remained unchanged and unwearied, preserved forever in her faithful memory. She did not love him – did not know if she had ever loved him – yet there he was. Was he still alive? She tried to think of Gerald, dead Gerald, dull, oblivious, bullying Gerald, but his face had turned bland and bloated with the years, like a blurred photograph of an undistinguished stranger.’ ‘Long Distance’, a free short story
‘This is an intelligently and thoughtfully written story about how the choices we make affect our lives. Stephen, the main character, is a university lecturer and a literary man. It is, therefore, no coincidence that the novel is strewn with literary allusions. Some of these I noted and I am fairly certain there were some I missed. However, I would happily go back and read this book again to seek them out. After the first few pages, I was confident that Jack Messenger was going to deliver a good novel. This enabled me to relax and allow the drama to unfold. There were some things left unsaid in this book and the reader was allowed to wonder what might have been. This plot was skilfully executed and added to a very satisfying story line.’ (Readers Favorite)
In an era of flash and twitter fiction, we are apt to forget that short is not new, and that literary heritage includes the aphorism and the pensée as much as it does the triple-decker novel and the epic poem. Kafka’s stories, for example, often extend for no more than a paragraph or two, while much Classical myth and fable is similarly concise. Motivations and contexts change with the times, however. The subtitle to Dead Aquarium – ‘i don’t have the stamina for that kind of faith’ – references the lower-case exhaustion and peculiar ennui that overcome contemporary culture when confronted with the grand, upper-case questions about Identity and Destiny, Value and Extinction that stalk us through the wind-strewn detritus of the back alley and the shopping mall.
‘What a treat – hard on the heels of Jack Messenger’s Farewell Olympus comes Take the Late Train, a quite different but no less engrossing read. Weaving between the present day and a vivid, in some ways AS present, past, the story is a deliberation on choices made, including what to know and what to be complicit in ‘unknowing’, and action over inaction. The book’s considerable cast of characters is deftly drawn, and even those with walk-on parts tend to trigger a degree of identification or empathy in the reader. The author inhabits the thoughts of central character, middle-aged academic Stephen, but is equally convincing in his portrayals of a teenage daughter and elderly mother. The sets of couples who variously reveal themselves to be anything but, are juxtaposed with more isolated figures (and indeed, isolation occurs devastatingly within couples). While melancholy – and for some characters, tragedy – is a motif, so too is love. Stephen’s own story includes no small degree of hope, and is ultimately a celebration of free will. With overt and less obvious allusions to Shakespeare and other writers, and prose which blends precision with poetry – elderly, frequently drunk Audrey is ‘dishevelled bedevilled’ and two greyhounds are perfectly evoked by their ‘clipping’ in and out of rooms – this is a work to be savoured on many levels. Highly recommended.’ (Amazon UK review)
Satire flourishes in desperate times and is often the last refuge of a desperate writer. If that is so, Jeffrey Perso, the author of Water Bodies, is as accomplished as he is perhaps desperate. If satire can be broadly defined as that which mocks human vice or folly by means of derision, irony or wit, then Water Bodies is satire par excellence. Its targets are specifically American, yet its reach is truly global, for stupidity and wilful ignorance care little for national boundaries.
Another Excellent Goodreads Review for Farewell Olympus
‘Farewell Olympusis an enjoyable and elegantly constructed romp around fraternal rivalry, family dynamics, literary aspiration, self-definition and the stories we tell ourselves and others. Someone should snap up the film rights.’ See the complete review atGoodreads Review