So, because I'm obsessed with the lit blog HTMLGIANT, I went there, read a review of Jensen Beach's debut collection of short stories, For Out Of The Heart Proceed, and immediately bought it.
The narratives are primarily first person, concentrating on father/son, husband/wife, male friend/male friend and man/bird relationships (that's right - bird). Each narrator struggles with decisions and feelings that fluctuate throughout the highly economic use of prose. Clipped sentences relay the fragility of emotion felt by his characters, by comments left hanging, ideas not fully comprehended. But the stories are not without humour. Often this humour is tinged with a sadness that links thematically to the concerns of each piece. A favourite example: against the wishes of his wife, a man decides to buy a peacock for their small house. When speaking to the farmer and owner of the bird, this conversation happens:
" 'It'd be a pity to break up a good thing,' the farmer said. 'The white bird is your bird's companion.'
'How so?' I asked.
'I think they're gay,' the farmer said. 'Gay birds,' he said and hung up the phone. "
After purchasing both birds when he previously only wanted one, due to costs, he decides to let one go, then the other. These moments of uncertainty run through many of the characters' situations. In the final story, a man kidnaps his son on the day his ex-wife and new boyfriend are moving him out of town. These father/son relationships I found the most poignant and complex. In another, a man consoles a father whose child was killed in the car he was driving by letting him chastise a teenage couple making the beast-with-two-backs in the college car park they patrol. These are powerful connections rendered simply and directly.
For Out Of The Heart Proceed is broken down into three sections containing six or seven hyper short stories finished with one longer piece - the last section ending with the eponymous title of the collection, a quote from the Book of Matthew. The stories are grouped appropriately, the first section, it seems, by birds - a strange and welcome idiosyncrasy.
Gather closer: it's all in the subtext. Beach evidently doesn't believe in telling his reader how to feel or judge his characters and their decisions. The stories concentrate on moments of stress, where decision-making is important to a greater story, where there isn't exactly right and wrong, but there is the perforation of the human heart and it's fractious demands.
Each story ends before it ends. They don't conclude expectedly, which, again, was an enduring trait I thought made the stories more alive and relatable. More believable in some ways. At times, I thought the prose was too deliberate, and I could see the structure of it in Beach's mind as he composed, which deadened moments and made them feel occasionally like first drafts.
Generally though, I would highly recommend this collection as an interesting, evocative and profound collection of contemporary prose. That's my official schtick, and I'm, ur, schticking to it.