Mike Corwin’s collection of short stories features protagonists attempting new beginnings or coming to terms with endings.
The first third of the collection consists of very different short pieces, including the reflections of an imprisoned man who has multiple personality disorder (“If I Had My Way in This Wicked World”), a Catholic schoolboy who resists being indoctrinated (“You Gotta Stand Up”), and a man watching his daughter get stood up for prom (“A Triumph of Spirit”). The most developed and compelling story is the brief “The Visit,” in which a Confederate soldier sneaks away from the march to steal a few moments with his infant son.
The rest, including two novellas, are less stories than loose accretions of summary and incident that lack shape, plot, conflict, or a sense of character growth. Instead of action, Corwin offers long sections of summary divided by expository dialogue summarizing a previous experience, often in awkward language. Even when there’s a problem to solve—for instance, Robert preparing for end-stage cancer in “The Art of Dying”—there’s a lack of urgency or stakes. Readers will find some amusing moments, as in the recovering alcoholic of “The Importance of Living a Meaningful Life” deciding he’s fine with being a narcissist, but those instances of voice are rare.
Most of the stories feel dated; modern audiences will find it hard to relate to “A New Orleans Life,” set in the 1960s, in which philosophy student Gabriel, part-black, pursues a romance with Southern belle Tess, deeply trained in the racism of the American South. In the novella “Biloxi: A Return Home,” between stretches of relating the failures of his life to his friend Matt, anthropology professor Ben takes up fishing in scenes already familiar from previous stories.
The prose is readable and for the most part grammatically correct, but there’s little in voice or style that grips. Overall, Corwin’s pages turn like passing scenery on a long trip, neither painful nor remarkable.
Also available as an ebook.