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The Dead Are More Visible

by Steven Heighton

The title story in Steven Heighton’s third collection features a man trying to move a huge stone with his mind. He stands in a cemetery-cum-public-park and contends that the thousands of buried dead want the stone gone. The man retreats inside himself as a means of influencing the physical object and removing the obstacle he sees existing between him and the cemetery’s deceased. This process permeates all of the stories in this collection: Heighton’s book is shot through with characters reaching out to others even as they simultaneously withdraw into themselves.

The 11 stories in The Dead Are More Visible are diverse in both tone and content. One of the collection’s most inventive stories, “Noughts and Crosses,” is a fresh take on the epistolary form. Opening with an email from the main character’s former lover, the tale unfolds as a close reading of that same email, filling in the history between two women who have fallen in and out of love. Here and elsewhere, Heighton lavishes attention on the way language helps frame the world. This idea runs deep through the opening story, “Those Who Would Be More,” about a nomadic Canadian English teacher who feels unmoored in Japan, and also crops up in “OutTrip,” about a young addict on a rehabilitation trip who begins to hallucinate that he is reliving the temptations of Christ in the desert.

Other stories pick up a survivalist thread, placing characters suffering from varied states of psychological and physical fragility in the wilderness or other extreme situations. A bereft man jogging up a steep hill reflects on the loss of his son and the business of aging; a former firefighter remembers the night his career ended.

The stories in the collection sit well together, bound not by a singular voice or characterization, but by the theme of questing coupled with characters’ instinct to do more than merely survive, but to reach out always toward other people.