The eight stories that comprise author and combative literary critic Stephen Henighan’s new collection of short fiction, most of them set in Central Europe, deftly capture the isolation and disconnectedness of the outsider through expatriate status, class divisions, and ideology.
Henighan’s writing is technically faultless, but often strays into a dry, journalistic style that makes it harder for readers to connect emotionally with the stories’ characters. While some authors naturally follow the “less is more” aesthetic, for others it becomes merely an exercise in reduction and constriction. In these stories, Henighan is more firmly in the latter category, and one gets the sense that a lot of compelling prose got stripped away in the interests of efficiency and fashionable minimalism. Like a close room with little fresh air, the lack of vibrancy in the prose can become a touch yawn-inducing.
If these stories do not exactly thrill with bursts of lyricism, they do resonate with intelligence, thoughtfulness, and perceptiveness. The longish title story follows an expat Canadian journalist’s attempts to deal with his disillusionment and emotional confusion after covering the Bosnian conflict. The story’s historical weight carries it and ensures its relevance. Without such weighty issues, the rest of the stories, though still enjoyably engaging, are best suited to those who like their ice-cream vanilla, their darts rubber-tipped, and their milk warm.