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July 2, 2016

Bright Shards of Someplace Else

by Anne Paddock

Twenty years ago, George Dawes Green wrote a book entitled The Juror about a young mother (Annie) chosen for jury duty for a high-profile murder trial of an organized crime mob boss. The story is filled with suspense and tension with the creepiest, most memorable part involving Annie’s best friend, Juliet – a strong, tough, and protective character – the  type of person we all want watching our back.

While trying to protect Annie, Juliet falls in love unknowingly with the mobster’s enforcer. After having sex with him, the enforcer reveals his true self and tells Juliet she has two choices: she can take an overdose of pills while writing a carefully crafted suicide note that will leave Annie and her young son, Oliver alive, or she can be shot, dying with the knowledge that he will also kill Annie and Oliver. Juliet opts for the overdose and dies. The scene is scary and haunting because Juliet never saw it coming and neither did I, the reader. So shocking was this twist that I still think about it 20 years later.

Bright_Shards_of_Someplace_ElseThe beauty of a great twist in a story is that it has to be believable with hints that make the outcome plausible but not on a conscious level until the story is complete. Looking back, the reader can say “well, of course that’s entirely possible but what brain could think of something so deviant and sinister?” Those are the thoughts I also had when I read Bright Shards of Someplace Else by Monica McFawn – a collection of 11 short stories that are filled with strange characters and thrilling twists.

In three short stories:  Out of the Mouths of Babes, Elegantly, in the Least Number of Steps, and The Slide Turned on End, the author shows the reader that intelligence is both a gift, a burden, and a weapon that can be used indiscriminately on those of lesser capabilities. Less forthcoming is the difference between reality and imagination which is often blurred by the mentally unstable. In the Line of Questioning and Improvisation, the reader struggles to separate the two only to question what is real and what isn’t.

Horses are often used in the stories to show the outrageousness and unknown “worlds” within the heads of human beings. When the adult son of an elderly woman who ran a horse farm finds his mother’s favorite horse dead, he must get rid of the horse before his ailing mother sees the corpse. Vacillating between humor and outrageousness like a Lucille Ball  I Love Lucy episode, Dead Horse Productions is a lesson in what happens when dutiful son tries too hard.

In Snippet and the Rainbow Bridge, the reader is introduced to two women – Marti and Judy – who operate Heart’s Journey – a sanctuary for horses saved from abuse, neglect, and the slaughterhouse. Snippet is an 11-year old pony who broke his leg. Two vets have been called to advise the owners on the care of Snippet. The storyteller is the fly on the wall who knows everything about the women, the vets, and the pony which makes for a rich underlying drama.

If you’ve ever wondered what possessed someone to do something, read Ornament and Crime and The Chautauqua Sessions – two short stories that weave grief, anger, honesty, and dishonesty as if they were antonyms instead of opposites. But, if you’ve ever wondered why someone won’t do something, then Key Phrases is a thoughtful read about a man who is told to fire an employee but just can’t seem to find the right moment.

Every neighborhood has the weird neighbor which gives purpose to those who have too much time on their hands. People keep a distance physically but mentally are preoccupied with watching the crazy neighbor from a window partially covered with curtains or from the rearview window of the car when driving by. In A Country Woman, the neighbors find it therapeutic to watch and complain but when the neighbor does something unpredictable, all bets are off.

Bright Shards of Someplace Else is the story of outliers – misfits, geniuses, obsessives, and just plain weirdos – who must live in a world that is both tiresome, threatening, and “clueless” which makes for unintended collisions of the “I never saw it coming” variety, and a suspenseful, engaging read.

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