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A Day Does Not Go by

by Sean Johnston

In A Day Does Not Go By, Sean Johnston arranges his themes – the fear of betrayal, the fragility of love, the haplessness of old age, the inadequacy of language – into 27 short vignettes.

In “In This House” the familial malaise that attends a dead father’s wake serves as tenuous shelter from the internal violence of an embittered son. In “Here, and Now” a young man waiting patiently to visit his seemingly recovering wife in hospital becomes haplessly entangled in an older couple’s pathetic jealousies, only to realize suddenly that his own partner is dying. The understated “An Awful Repair” features a retired couple returning home from a lazy vacation who come upon a fatal car crash splayed out across their lawn.

Some of the stories tend to the more allegorical or fantastic, such as “Their Names,” in which a jilted husband finds himself unable to name familiar objects. These stories fail to engage, as Johnston’s cryptic abstractions strike one as arty indulgence. Too often Johnston uses metaphors that simply don’t work: “Words hung in the air like murdered fish, coveted for their precision.”

The best stories in A Day Does Not Go By are deceptively complex. Johnston uses a minimalist prose style to depict sometimes unremarkable happenings that are then transformed into resonant meanings. Shards of intimacy, despair, compassion, and brutality emerge via this uncanny banality.