"Truth is nobody possesses 100% certainty about who they are, where they came from, how they came into this world. The only fact you can know is that you don't know." (Slice of Moon, Scoundrels Among Us, page 201)
We've been ruminating on what this passage from Darrin Doyle's new dark and absurdist short story collection Scoundrels Among Us means to us. It certainly speaks to Doyle's worldview and the framing of his stories. How do we truly know anything about ourselves or those we interact with? And if we think we know something, how do we trust it? That's the thesis of Slice of Moon, a story that is not quite troubling, though we suppose it is, a once not mysterious neighbor who suddenly is, not the least of which because he suddently has a mysterious child, none of which adds up. It walks the line between slice of life and the absurd and the chasm between what we know and don't know is ripe for all kinds of storytelling, something Doyle clearly grasps and returns to again and again throughout the collection. The thing with the absurd is when it works it has to feel just real enough to be believable and this is where Doyle's craftmanship truly shines. Every story is grounded in just enough of the real that we have to take the stories as possible. With Dangling Joe, why can't a man suddenly appear dangling in the sky and why wouldn't we move on to other things as well? Or with Outline or Twilford Baines, Buck Hunter Unbound, the stories are so real, and so sad, and filled with just enough dread, that yes, we know how their going to end, but they are just off enough that we don't know how they're going to get there. This speaks to another reason we've been thinking about the above quote. Writers also search for who they are on the page and through their work, where their stories come from and how they come into the world. But while writers don't always know the sources of their ideas, or they find their voice, what you see with Scoundrels Among Us is a push to play with form, to challenge the story as previously written, this case Doyle's previous work The Dark Will End the Dark, and in this writers know with some certaintly is available to them, playing with what they new to find something new, if they just keep pushing, keep writing and continue trying to grow.
And so it is that we come to the new Chicago inspired short story collection Where The Marshland Came To Flower by old friend Peter Anderson. Anderson's previous work was the novel Wheatyard, a sad, fascinating story, about what else, how well we know anyone, much less ourselves, and with this collection, Anderson not only uses Chicago for his muse, but Lou Reed's album New York. These are stories of neighborhoods and tribalism, the stew and diversity that makes for big cities, but especially this one, in which lines are always drawn and where we may proudly state who we are as denizens of this "fascinating and perplexing city... where the marshland came to flower," but may still not be able to say who we are as people and individuals, our stories ever-changing, the world around us evolving. And so it is with the old men in Hope and Change and The Bells Will Ring For You, but also the young man in Prime Time, one of the stories we love most in a collection that takes you on a wonderful tour of not just this city we can barely know in all of its complexities, but a tour of our own emotions. Another story we love, Eyewitness, is heartbreaking in its evolution and what it says about the isolation and loneliness that can slowly engulf one's life even when one lives in a city of five million. Anderson too then has pushed the form as he knew it, and used it, seeking a new way to write about the humanity that seeps from his pen and brain. He is an author who writes profoundly of the common man and woman who are on searches of their own, and who found their way onto his pages and into our brains. We know both of these authors, we even know where they come from, but to really know them is to read them, to lose yourself in their worlds as we have done. If you do so, you can know them too, you will also change your life, if only briefly, and with some uncertainty about who they, and you, may truly be, as you await what they produce next.