Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity & Loss is an anthology of engaging short fiction that varies in subject, style and tone. As the subtitle suggests, explorations in identity and the different faces of loss provide a thematic focus for the collection. After each story, an extended bio, author perspective on the story, and information about the author’s other publications is provided, and I really like that. So often in an anthology I don’t feel that I “meet” the writers of the short stories or poems. Here, I am asked to slow down and get to know them a bit.
Every story in the book is special, but I will write about just a few of my favorites. In “1975: East Ocean View,” Elizabeth Gauffreau develops a character study of a young woman whose childhood has been ended by the birth of a baby. The girl, unexposed to early feminism, hasn’t had a chance to grow up on her own, but instead must negotiate a life of poverty with an immature husband and a baby. Gauffreau’s skill with deft understatement and deep understanding is clear in this piece. “1975: East Ocean View” serves as a reminder to me of the best of the short story genre—and what I love about it. No big splash, but lots of dangerous undercurrents. In her second story in the book, “Diary Omissions: The House on Edgewood Road,” Gauffreau demonstrates a flair for dry humor even as she writes poignantly of a family tragedy.
“Two Boys,” by Carol LaHines, is a thought-provoking look at a mother’s loss. The approach to the subject, as well as the writing style, reminds me of Shirley Jackson’s delightful and unsettling “domestic” stories.
“Where Secrets Go to Hide” by Keith Madsen is a charming and humorous exploration of what makes a secret a secret. An undercurrent of darkness occasionally breaks the surface and shows itself, thus providing tension and suspense to the story.
I enjoyed all the stories in the collection immensely. You couldn’t ask for a more satisfying variety of approaches to both identity and loss. The protagonist in “1975; East Ocean View” has lost her future even as she has lost her past. In this way she is in danger of losing her self. In “Two Boys,” the loss affects the mother’s and the child’s sibling’s identities. Madsen’s story is about the loss of innocence, which affects the identity of the protagonist and his family.
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