Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review of Encountering The Mind

   Encountering the Mind

      Reading the first published work from an author can be a treat because one is seeing the writer in their rawest form, generally showing the author’s initial leanings in terms of content and style. The content and style of Tabitha Edson’s Encountering The Mind is poignant, blood-soaked, and sinister in equal measure. Miss Edson has shown in her first published work that she has a penchant for the macabre, the deranged, and sorrow. While there are a few minor gripes over writing style, I found this collection of short-short fiction and poetry to be a welcome and engaging book.

     As mentioned a moment ago, this work is a hybrid book, comprised of what one might call short-short fiction and poetry. The juxtaposition of reading a few poems punctuated by a narrative story actually works quite well, as a few of the poems before each story are excellent lead-ins for the content, theme, or style of the story that follows. The poem entitled “Nothing” gives the reader the fear of death as the abstraction that it is with the freedom of throwing away such fears. It ends on the unrestrained image of a coffin without a body. Immediately after this poem is the short-short story “Freedom”, which shares the theme of freedom through confinement from everyday life.
     Several of the poems touch on death and/or dying. The poem “Candle” uses the metaphor of a candle flame to represent a heartbeat. But there is a sense of futility to this poem shown when the air to blow out the flame comes from nowhere in particular. One can see the speaker resigned to the idea that the universe will simply extinguish the flame when it will, without direction or even malice. Many of the poems in the book are free-form but there a few scattered about that follow a form. “Kiss of Death” follows the pantoum form rather eloquently and it keeps with the overall theme of the work that focuses on the macabre and dying. The oddness of the pantoum form, where the first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated throughout the poem, adds to the uncomfortable nature of the subject. The poem’s speaker makes it clear that the poem’s subject rejected life through a suicidal act, complete with sinister voices compelling compliance in soft voices to do the deed quickly. The choice of black iris as the bed the body lies on, a flower that appears disturbingly black and pleasantly violet depending on point of view, leaves the reader with the sense that this death may have been a good thing after all.
     The fiction written for the book has some strong characteristics. The story “Bridal Revenge” is begging for a larger lead-up. The constraints of short-short fiction do a disservice to such a wonderful setting for mayhem and insanity. The strongest of the stories in this collection is by far “The Show”, which has an ending that is heartbreaking on a gut-wrenching level. One of the overriding themes through both the poetry and the fiction is the randomness of death, the utter lack of any design or purpose behind the actions of others. “The Show” brilliantly captures this theme, building slowly through the lens of a young couple enjoying their time in Las Vegas. There is always a sense in the story that something awful is going to happen but one is never quite certain when that will occur. In unison to “The Show”, the story “The Fire” deals with perseverance in the face of looming death.
     My only gripe with the author’s style of writing is that there is a considerable amount of telling instead of showing. Perhaps this was due to the constraints of the chosen format but the fiction felt at times to be dictated to me rather than described to me. This is only a minor gripe, though, and not something that completely took away from my ability to enjoy the work. The talent to draw the audience in to a story, even if there will be a heart-wrenching ending, is obviously evident in the author. I would like to see more of that in the future. Some may be turned off by the lurid descriptions and uncomfortable randomness of the stories being told in this collection. I found them to be compelling and fascinating studies into how a writer attempts to cope with the ever present specter of death in our midst. 

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