Review

Success: Stories
by David A. Taylor (Mauritania 1983–85)
Washington Writers’ Publishing House
216 pages
$15.95
October 2008

Reviewed by Will Siegel (Ethiopia 1962-64)

    THE STRENGTH OF David Taylor's interesting and exotic stories springs from his strong narrative voice and his precise yet casual use of details. The stories take place in many locales — Sri Lanka, Nepal, Scotland, Africa and a U.S. trailer park. They deal with difficult relationships between lovers, fathers and sons, siblings and people who work together. Each story rests on its own, with interesting true-to-life characters; strong details arise from the background amid story lines that are not always what they seem. Many of the tales have twists and turns and yet the total effect is almost always achieved by the emotional punch, rather than the conclusion of a story line.
         In the opening story, “Strikers,” a group of experienced volunteers for a medical experiment carry on like freshmen pledging a fraternity. This is a unique tale of potential losers doing a dangerous medical trial for money. The tensions and uncomfortable relationships are portrayed in an almost causal way, but what is left unsaid by the narrator is strangely more satisfying than the consequences or behavior.
         This holds true in many of the stories in this collection. While the narrative is usually strong and apparent, the story line often comes to an indistinct ending before the emotional impact. This is done with great effect in, “Bottle,” which describes a chance encounter between the disgruntled narrator on the way to a hospital to see his newborn child and his alienated wife. He tries to shake an intrusive alcoholic character who insists that the new father be his friend. Although this meeting is of the unlikely sort, through a twist or two we find out what these two share.
         “Strange Cabbages,” is set in one of the exotic locations — Sri Lanka, where a dreamy interwoven story of government officials in the third world is set against the real life of those who are living their life in the daily fight against threatening poverty. The story features the sentiments of government officials and their casual, almost random doling out of government largess. The many good details bring the characters to face the reader on the page with their frustrations, longing and everyday violence.
         The title story, “Success,” is a tale about a brother egging on his younger sibling and sister-in-law in a kind of warped strike at using them. The emotional ride as the younger brother trys to impress his older brother stops like a rider pulling up short on a horse which propels the full emotional impact past the ending to an unexpected appreciation of all the characters and their situation.
         “Pelagro,” a story of a father and son’s weekly outing to the racetrack portrays a son beginning to see his father and his family with a growing maturity. The day at the races turns out to be more about the decline and alienation of a family than bringing father and son together when an incident at the track mirrors the details in the family’s separateness.
         In “Coral, from the Sea” which is about half way through the collection, the reader begins to feel more acquainted with the author and to trust his take on his fictional surroundings. This story involves a deaf female locksmith and a trailer park family. Taylor does not spare the romantic isolation of the characters; in fact he manages to make them all appealing in their seeming random and awkward relations to each other. As in other stories, the complexity of the impact of the characters on each other rests on the emotional undercurrents of the story and overcomes the routine avenues of the narration.
         “May Day,” a coming of age story in a college in Scotland begins with the opening of a letter that “. . . slices like a paper cut opening up a seam of memory.” In the typical din of the college life of friends and drinking and wondering is the growing pain of a boy-girl story with a painful revelation which, when it comes, reverberates through the inner lives of the characters and perhaps into the readers’ own experience and understanding.
         In “Child Thief,” an African village displays a mob mentality in accusing a stranger. We see the story from the viewpoint of a child. The exotic ordinariness of the story tends to show how alike we all are no matter where we live. “Electrolysis” is a strange tale, as creepy as the office in a 4th floor electrolysis lair run by a loose waif and the gentleman caller who needs his ears and ego trimmed back.
         Success: Stories is an imaginative collection, diverse and satisfying, filled with the unspoken realization that life is full of stories and yet underneath, life goes on in spite of and because of the stories. Several are perhaps too short and need more substance, but even here the details and voice make them compelling. The writing throughout is excellent, with convincing details that enhance the narrative and dialogue that is crisp, real and direct.

    Will Siegel holds an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. He is working on a book of short stories and a novel that encompasses the homecoming and re-education of a Peace Corps Volunteer.