Quill and Quire

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Let’s Not Let a Little Thing Like the End of the World Come Between U

by James Marshall

James Marshall’s book of short stories is sharp and edgy, like the broken glass that peppers its pages. The Saskatchewan writer’s debut collection features eight stories that capture fragments of their protagonists’ lives. These fragments don’t reflect white-picket-fence love stories. Instead, they reveal illicit romances, violent love affairs, broken marriages, and disturbing friendships. Rhapsody and Mason enjoy a racy romance just minutes away from a raging forest fire. Matt looks like Jesus Christ and turns the other cheek too many times to his abusive girlfriend. The devil smuggles human embryos and then makes a play for a dead woman’s heart.

Marshall draws the reader into his characters’ minds with the use of the first-person narrative and enhances the authenticity of the experience by portraying multiple moments in time simultaneously to show the fluid, erratic nature of thought. His often ambiguous and unpredictable endings further reinforce the complex nature of his tormented characters. Marshall engages the reader, builds suspense and maximizes the climactic impact. Particularly brilliant are his intertwining depictions of love and war; indeed, the two clear-cut love stories, “Part-Time Angels” and the title piece, are the collection’s finest.

Not all of Marshall’s stories are as accomplished. A longer one with the promising title “Stalkers Have Feelings Too, You Know” whets the appetite with a dynamic build-up but succumbs to an unsatisfying end. Similarly, “I Wonder if This Kind of Thing Ever Happened to Wayne Gretzky” showcases flammable passages of “spill-hot-wax-on-me” love, but ends weakly. The third story, “Like I Care,” is simply an odd choice for the collection; it does not mesh well with the other stories because it features a protagonist whom the reader cannot care for.

Nevertheless, Marshall skillfully ties the collection together with recurring images and metaphors. The most poignant of all imagery is the mirror motif, in which Marshall’s tormented characters desperately try to see themselves. Essentially, Marshall’s stories portray varied attempts at piecing together the disparate fragments of one’s identity for a definable visibility. However, as Rhapsody says to her disfigured lover, “Some things look more beautiful broken.” Perhaps this familiar brokenness is the real lure of Marshall’s collection.