Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The stories in Jen Knox's After the Gazebo are eclectic, but unified in tone. They are stories of people who have been beaten up by a hard world, but have been left with a sense of hope. Sometimes the characters make bad decisions, but often these are tales of circumstances that build up and overwhelm. The subjects include topics such as substance abuse, the problems of aging, abusive relationships, raging storms, car accidents, and so many others. But the writing is character oriented with the focus not on what happens as much as it is on how it impacts the people.

Knox's writing style is wonderful. Here are a couple of first sentences:

From Disengaged:
The closest I've come to a passionate encounter in the last two decades was with Henry, and he died soon after we met.

From Types of Circus:
The last day I saw Michelle, she weighed 325.2 pounds.

Both of these sentences captured me as soon as I read them. In the first case the death draws me in. In the second the .2 pounds intrigues me. I could go on and on with examples of how Knox subtly and carefully holds her readers' attention.

Two stories in the collection are particularly intriguing because they may or may not be connected. These are Scratching the Silver and Lying to Old Men. Both are about a man named Rattle who has a one night stand with an underage exotic dancer. The first one is written from Rattle's point of view. The second is from the point of view of the woman. But the stories play out in very different ways, leaving me wondering if they are about two different men with the same unusual name and affair, or about the same man with two different dancers (she's named in the first story, but not in the second), or if this is a case of looking at the results of the same event with two very different choices. Knox placed Scratching the Silver early in the collection and Lying to Old Men late, so she wasn't pushing this connection. Still, if she did not want them to be considered as a pair, I believe she would have changed Rattle's name.

Both of the two “Rattle” stories stand own. In fact, according to the acknowledgments: Scratching the Silver first appeared in Per Contra and Lying to Old Men received finalist status for the 2013 Fulton Prize and was introduced in The Adirondack Review. But together they are even more powerful. Like all the stories in After the Gazebo they made me think and feel.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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