The collected stories and sonnets in Delta of Cassiopeia highlight author Ted Morrissey’s accomplished prose style.
In the introduction, Morrissey describes founding Twelve Winters press to showcase “challenging, experimental, avant-garde, artful” fiction. But that bar, further raised with a title borrowed from James Joyce, is one this retrospective spanning Morrissey’s career—many works published in respected journals, others in award-winning books—doesn’t reach for. Instead, these stories are quiet, conventional, even old-fashioned in their sensibility, such as “Vox Humana,” where protagonist Henry’s unease upon returning from the Korean war feels quaintly dated, even though the trauma of returning combat veterans is an urgent contemporary concern.
The stories offer richly imagined premises but generally fall short of fully exploring them, such as “A Wintering Place,” told from the perspective of Frankenstein’s monster, or “Melvill in the Marquesas,” about the time a young Herman Melville jumped ship in the South Pacific. Almost every piece in the “Early Stories” section, most narrated by distant, ineffectual young men, step away from their emotional center, rather than towards it.
The book’s undeniable highlight, however, is Morrissey’s prose: engrossing and nearly flawless, with polished and occasionally startling images. In the German valley Esteban visits in “Figures of Blue,” “the light here was infused with indigo, as if the sky had become lonely and rode the sunlight down to earth.” In “The Cold Dark March to Winter,” Beth Ann stands outside a house and “stared up at the window for several minutes, picking up and considering her feelings like items in a curiosity shop, each one unnamable and possibly no longer of use.”
The dozen sonnets of the Laertes sequence that closes the volume, elegies for the author’s father, are fine and robust.
This collection’s tone is a soft susurration rather than a challenging prosody. One wishes Morrissey’s fine prose might be used as a scalpel rather than a butter knife. Nevertheless, the rich language is its own reward.
Also available as an ebook.