Sitting down to begin Apparition & Late Fictions by Thomas Lynch, my expectations were high. Written by an ex-mortician, I prepared for Lynch’s collection to be written with an authority far greater than those who have written on death before. I wanted tears.
The first piece is the short story, ‘Catch and Release’. Beautifully titled, it tracks a son on his journey to scattering a portion of his father’s ashes into a river. There are some truly charming lines within the piece, for example – ‘[…] the slow tug of the lure in the current, the fresh sensation of the river’s bottom and the current’s ways as he worked through snags, over gravel, around stumps, and into the dark pools where his father told him fish were waiting’ inspired a pause, an appreciation of the water. However, some lines do hinder the narrative. The occasional five line sentence made for a sometimes stilted reading, and stopped the true emotion from coming through. The closing line brings about a shock in the story, and much as I enjoyed the surprise, it didn’t quite fit. I hoped for tears, but was ultimately left disappointed.
‘Bloodsport’ is up next. The recollection of a young girl’s murder, narrated by her mortician, is written with the authority of someone with an in-depth knowledge of not only the grieving process, but the treatment of corpses and autopsy. Which is unsurprising, of course, but nonetheless it was pleasing to feel the experienced arm steer me through the narrative. Where the story does lack, though, is the showing. As in showing, rather than telling. The overtly factual presentation of the first page removes some of the magic so integral to the short story form. Especially when the opening sentence is so promising – ‘Most times the remembrance was triggered by colour – that primary red of valentines or Coca Cola ads – the colour of her toenails, girlish and perfectly polished.’ Had there been more of these lines, and less of the she did, he said, and then lines, I could have fallen in love with ‘Bloodsport’.
‘Hunter’s Moon’ is, to steal a phrase from The Times included on the back cover, ‘necessary’. How does a man who has suffered the loss of three wives and one daughter (through death and divorce) cope? By pissing into the neighbour’s garden? Perhaps. By taunting the dogs he had previously feared? Definitely. The narrator struck me as the most complex of the collection so far. And the one who inspired most empathy. Through his flaws, and his darting recollections, the reader can piece together an image of a mosaic man. Someone whose life has been smashed and then glued together time and again. Where I would pass up reading the previous two stories a second time, I would gladly re-read ‘Hunter’s Moon’, time and again.
Feeling more positive, I approached ‘Matinee de Septembre’ with curiosity. For such an American collection to embrace a French title intrigued me. Which summarises the feel of the piece rather well. Intriguing. Over-run sentences still punctured the rhythm at places, and the odd cliché jolts a reader out from a place of belief to one of critique. Nonetheless, the narrator, a lecturer, poet, and a widow, demands that a reader try and understand her. I found myself pitying her, being irritated by her, and eventually becoming immersed in the food-framed vision of her lusting for a young waitress. No tears again, but with this story, tears are unnecessary.
The collection closes with Lynch’s novella, ‘Apparition’. At points, the writing seemed to return to the stilted stylings of ‘Catch and Release’ and ‘Bloodsport’. However, where those two lacked particularly provoking narrators, ‘Apparitions’ could be said to counteract this. An ex-minister left by his wife to raise two children would always be a person if interest. It is his negotiation of sexual relationships, and religious pressures, which allows Adrian to escape the victim paradigm, and appear to master his own destiny, to whatever small extent that may be. The story is infused with a sense of acceptance, in spite of the evidently complex life presented. To quote the bishop in the novella, ‘Romance and religious fervor are so often confused.’ A rather apt summary of the novella’s key thread.
Any Cop?: Apparition & Late Fictions has some pockets of absolute beauty. However, it also inspires frustration within the reader, a longing for something more than the diffident accepting tone. The tears did not come, nor will they ever upon any re-readings. ‘Hunter’s Moon’ is most definitely a worthwhile read; however the rest I fear, are only for the morticians, the religious, and the untroubled amongst us.