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A debut volume of short stories and poems explores the impact of human suffering.

Maddy’s collection includes five poems, three short stories, and a series of short letters to Jesus, all examining victims of emotional and physical violence. The first line of the opening poem, from which the book takes its title, reads: “It’s so very hard to die in little pieces.” A simple sentence rich in melodrama if lacking in detail, it sets the tone for everything that follows. The stories are the strongest offerings. In the first, “Shock,” an unnamed narrator passes through a phantasmagoric dream sequence after witnessing a shark attack on a beach. The protagonist wanders through a mysterious wilderness and encounters various examples of passive bystanders failing to intervene in local acts of violence. The second tale, “Abused,” follows a troubled boy named Andy from infancy to adulthood. Andy suffers horrific abuse at the hands of his father, who ultimately kills his mother and gets 15 years in prison. Traumatized, Andy crawls through the foster-care system and eventually begins to repeat his father’s mistakes, primarily alcoholism and domestic abuse. The third story, “The Minister,” examines a family trying to care for their son Henry, who has a severe facial deformity. These tales often struggle to find a natural rhythm, but Maddy’s determined spotlight on domestic violence and the importance of loving parenting gives the collection some thematic resonance. The same cannot be said for the spotty “Letters to Jesus from the Grave,” 28 short notes in which the dead pose rhetorical questions to Christ about the cruelty of life and the nature of salvation. Featuring letters from an unborn fetus, a Confederate soldier, a Somalian baby, and more, the section certainly ranges widely, but each one is too brief to pack a profound punch. The reader wishes the time and space devoted to these notes had been dedicated to a more thorough investigation of the characters and themes of the tales. Maddy’s greatest strength is his storytelling, which would benefit from further development.

A short, scattered collection with a focus on the dangers of child abuse and domestic violence.

Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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