THE TORCHBEARER by Joseph Schmidt


and other Stories of Borderline Redemption
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Twenty-one short stories—some surreal, others unsettling, several ineffably beautiful.

A feline creature morphs into a young girl. A carefree game of tag becomes fatal. Daylight arrives in the middle of the night. Rod Serling could have given a Twilight Zone intro to each story in this collection. Disturbing as many of them are, they tend to focus on the saving grace of redemption and on the transformation that comes with achieving true power. In “The Torchbearer,” the wonderful opening story, it’s the power to accept love at all costs; in “The Fountain,” it’s the power to feel young again; in “The Moon,” it’s the power to accept death; in “Light And Shadow,” it’s the power to see quite literally into the “inner workings of nature”; and in “The Party,” one of the collection’s best stories, it’s the power of an uninvited guest to kick-start a neighborhood gathering. Set mostly in the present day, the stories’ many varied locations range from Tribeca to Kansas to an enchanted garden. Narrators vary too—in age, sex and authority—but all experience a change that may take readers by surprise. As the titular character states in “Julie’s Big Day,” “[t]hings were fine before, but today they’re different.” The changes can be internal or external, as bodies are altered and faces morph. Having some characters appear so grotesque seems unwarranted, however, as does the inclusion of italic codicils at the ends of several stories. Similarly, the endings of a handful of other pieces seem to unsatisfyingly peter out, as in “The Windmill.” Not so, however, with the book’s last story, “The Hat.” As with the collection’s opening piece, in which a tightrope artist wows spectators by carrying a flaming torch at midnight across Niagara Falls, the final piece also involves a torch—but it’s a torch song, sung by a disheveled, tooth-missing gentleman captivating the raucous crowd of a midtown lounge.

A winding journey into a wondrous land of imagination.

Pub Date: April 18th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1493716920
Page count: 188pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2014


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