Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Artful Stories


"Dreaming Rodin" by John M. Flynn


With John M. Flynn's collection of short stories, "Dreaming Rodin" we get a very mixed bag indeed - and I mean this in a good way. There is a whole lot to commend this short collection that is jam packed with surprises.



To begin with, we get a full dozen stories included here, which are:

  • Pluto on Sundays
  • Desire Equals Rain
  • Where the Mountains are Tinged with Silver
  • The Fig Tree
  • Harmony Loves a Violin
  • Cajolery
  • Charred Rotator
  • R-Man the G-Unit
  • The Size of Need
  • All the Rich Men in Heaven
  • The Man with his Wife Painted on his Chest
  • Dreaming Rodin

The first surprise here is that the whole collection doesn't reach 120 pages. That means we're talking about a collection whose stories are obviously going to be very concise. The drawback of this is that Flynn must convey his message quickly, which could leave the reader a bit confused as we get into the story. However, that also means he can maximize the impact of his stories by getting to the point quicker. I have to admit that with most of these stories, it did take me a couple of pages to understand what Flynn was trying to say, and who was who. But once over these initial hurdles, there was no escaping each tale to its end. That is how captivating these stories are.



What makes them such a "mixed bag" is that, on the surface, they seem to be a dozen, totally unrelated stories. Each one investigates different types of people, in as diverse settings as on a smelly fishing wharf, the dirty back streets of Amsterdam, the warm kitchen of an Italian mother, an afternoon of a washed-up drummer, in an art classroom filled with disinterested students, or at a nice restaurant after a symphony's rehearsal. Flynn gets into the heads of young and old alike, finding what is inside of them, be it anger, lust, guilt, frustration or simply curiosity and innocence.  Through this, Flynn highlights what makes these characters both totally ordinary and uniquely individual. 


What he does with such a mosaic to bring them together as a cohesive collection is very subtle, and not something that is easy to discover. If I had to pinpoint something that seems to be the theme that does this, it would be "things have changed". As ordinary as this may sound, this really is embedded in each of these stories, and sometimes it is introduced so ingeniously, that you might not realize it's there until you've finished the whole story, if not the whole book.



All of this is compounded by a story-telling that is very distinctive, to say the least, and might be something that will not be to all readers' tastes. That is expressed in how Flynn's stories have an unfinished feel to them. On one hand, some readers might feel almost cheated when they reach the end of each story. On the other hand, this means that these brief vignettes into these varied people's lives, will evoke us to question what we've just read, and wonder what Flynn's point was with each story. In other words, Flynn doesn't spoon-feed us his messages, he makes us think. While I personally think that for the most part, this is a good thing, some readers might find this to be over-taxing.



Finally, Flynn is also a bit of a chameleon in his writing style. For instance, in "Charred Rotator" Flynn gets into the alcohol and drug-addled head of an ex-rocker who is far from stable by using a telegraphic style that often eschews prepositions. This is extremely different from his titular story "Dreaming Rodin" which is written in a more conventional prose style, interspersed with phrases and thoughts that are very poetic. Flynn also doesn't stick with only one point of view, and switches with ease between first and third person (but never within one story).



Overall, this is a blend of stories, which are as artfully written as they are varied in subjects and characters. It occurred to me that this type of collection could be excellent fodder for a creative writing course, largely because they are so thought provoking. While there were one or two tales here that I found were a bit overly concise, on the whole I truly enjoyed almost all these stories, and feel this collection deserves to be strongly recommended with a solid four out of five stars.




"Dreaming Rodin" by John M. Flynn was published in December, 2013 by Publerati and is available from Amazon (UK and US), Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (Australia, Canada and USA) and iTunes. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me a copy of this book for review. Publerati is a particularly special publisher in that it gives "no less than 15% of [their] net proceeds to help the Worldreader Organization spread literacy using technology."

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