An atmosphere of magical realism surrounds three interrelated short stories about an aberrant elevator, the legend of Icarus, and a girl who can fly.
“Will you tell us a story—a tale of wonderment?” This question appears in the third of these short stories, but all three tell wondrous tales. In “The Elevator,” a young man in Paris for his first business trip finds that his hotel’s elevator seems to have a mind and motion of its own, moving sideways and depositing him in unexpected locations. He has unsettling encounters that remind him of his limitations (for example, understanding art) and losses (family and faith). Looking back, he wonders why he avoided taking the elevator a fifth time. In the title story, a young scientist muses on the Greek myth of Icarus and his own childhood dreams of flying, inspired by viewing Pablo Picasso’s painting The Fall of Icarus. He reimagines the story so that Icarus succeeds—not by flying the recommended middle way, but by improving his father’s wings. Flight again takes center stage in “The Girl.” The narrator, an archivist, is a young woman who can’t remember her own name. She meets an elderly couple and tells them her “tale of wonderment” about a schoolgirl who masters the art of flying, breaking free from those who would ground her. The old woman reassures her that “Eventually you’ll remember your true name.” Bates (At the Sharp End of Lightning, 2015) has a sure and delicate touch. His stories have a dreamlike quality where oddities may puzzle but are taken for granted. Though Bates writes with a lovely crystalline clarity, understanding is elusive for his characters; when the first narrator asks a graffiti artist what his work means, the artist replies, “It means nothing. Why should this mean anything to you? Perhaps I don’t want to be deciphered.” The stories have a mournful sense of lost opportunity or talent denied, especially the first, but the last two hold out hope for retelling one’s story in transformative ways.
Intriguing and enchanting, with the rich allusiveness of poetry.
Walkley pits CIA agents against a maniacal Saudi prince intent on starting World War III in this debut thriller.
Delta Force operative Lee McCloud, aka Mac, finds himself in Mexico, trying to rescue two teenage girls kidnapped by a drug cartel. But things go from bad to worse when the villains don’t play by the rules. Framed for two murders he didn’t commit, Mac has two options: go to prison or go to work for a CIA black-op group run by the devious Wisebaum, who hacks into terrorists’ bank accounts and confiscates millions of dollars. However, there’s more going on than meets the eye; Saudi Prince Khalid is in possession of nuclear canisters, with which he hopes to alter world history. Khalid also dabbles in trafficking young women, and harvesting and selling human organs. When Wisebaum’s black-op team targets Khalid’s father, the action becomes even more intense. With so many interweaving subplots—kidnapped girls, Israeli undercover agents, nuclear weapons and a secret underwater hideout—it could be easy to lose track of what’s going on. But the author’s deft handling of the material ensures that doesn’t occur; subplots are introduced at the appropriate junctures and, by story’s end, all are accounted for and neatly concluded. Mac is portrayed as a rough and ready action-hero, yet his vulnerabilities will evoke empathy in readers. He finds a love interest in Tally, a hacker whose personality is just quirky enough to complement his own. All Walkley’s primary characters are fleshed out and realistic, with the exception of Wisebaum—a malicious, double-dealing, back-stabber of the worst ilk; the reader is left wondering about Wisebaum’s motivations behind such blatant treachery.
Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.
Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.
Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?
With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.