Entrekin is filled with great writing. My favorites in this collection are:
What I Saw That Day, a gripping first person story about a young college graduate’s experience of walking home from Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks.
The first difference I noticed when I left my office building that afternoon, through those revolving doors and into the still-brilliant sun, was the smell. The air seemed heavy, as dense with dirt and dust and grit as it could possibly be without actually becoming solid; I could taste the grains in it, feel them rattle down my throat and into my lungs. I was several miles from the World Trade Center, on 40th and Madison, breathing the towers and the attacks and the fear into my body. Though I was several miles from the site of the attacks, they became a part of me, trapped in my lungs, in my eyes, in my memories, as crystallized as silica and asbestos.
The story deals, as many in this collection, with loss. Here the loss is not only personal to the protagonist but also to the nation. This theme of loss meshes with the theme of uncertainty as to what is real. When we experience loss, our sense of the real is assaulted, and we feel anxiety and stress. The Trade Center Towers coming down was an aspect of the unreal, the cinematic fantasy, replacing reality and forever changing us, frightening us and filing us with anxiety that has been exploited, in some sense, by politicians. So are the characters in this collection changed by their encounter with the unreal, sometimes never being able to separate the real from the unreal and becoming lost. One can only wonder whether we as a nation, following traumatic events, are not lost ourselves, still trying to shift through the images of true danger and the flickering shadows that seem everywhere.
In Addicted to Praise Poe manifests himself in the form of a black raven, asking that a young Parisian analyst, Augustine Dupin, investigate his death in America.
Baltimore is a new, raw city, bricks as pink as fresh skin and cobblestones the deep grey of a winter storm. I nearly gag on the smell, some grotesque combination of roasted nuts, ground shells, and horse sweat and waste. The air is so sharp and cold breathing feels like getting socked in the nose, and the men old enough to grow winter beards have, while the women’s faces are extra pink with rouge over windburn. I first secure a room for an extended stay, then visit the local constabulary.
The story has a surreal feeling to it, coming as it does form the viewpoint of an unreliable, possibly mentally ill first person narrator. The play on what is real and what is imagined is a frightening juxtaposition exploring one of the themes of this collection—the experience of mental illness.
This theme is elaborated once again in Factory life, a frighteningly vivid glimpse into what it must be like to suffer from schizophrenia.
My coworkers continuously talk to me. I try not to let myself get distracted from these tiny steel beads, but it is difficult; whispers in my ear, and their voices itch like wool in my brain, but I can’t scratch it.
How the World Will End, a story about the end of the world offers a disturbing vision of a possible end of the world that is at once vivid and fresh, escaping the temptations of the genre.
Temptation comes to Jesus in Imperfect Thirst, a story featuring the Temptress. This story caught my attention right away, as I turned the pages, because of the powerful voice of the character, a voice that compels the reader into character's world and predicament. The temptation of the temptress for the unwary traveler in the desert of the real is that of the quick fix, a relief from oppression of desolation created by loss of paradise, water, and life.
His head down, eyes closed, he didn’t see or hear the woman approach, only felt her shadow on his body. His mouth surprised him by watering and he swallowed by reflex, the first moisture his body had known in a long, long time. He’d known she would come, of course. She always did.
“You’re thirsty,” she told him. Her voice lilted like smoke, oozed in his head like oil.
Finishing the collection is the spectacular first chapter of his debut novel, A Different Tomorrow, which is included as a bonus at the very end. The first chapter of the novel is so very much what a good opening chapter should be. It opens, first of all, in the middle of action. The writing is clean, simple, and evokes a cinematic vision in the reader’s mind. There is nothing obtrusive here, no speed bumps or mislaid structural elements over which to trip. Consider this fragment:
A ski-masked man dressed all in black pointed a gun equipped with a long silencer at Chance’s father.
In college, Chance had trained in martial arts, and the entire world slowed as his training suddenly took control of his body: leapt him through the doorway to tackle the man with the gun. The man rolled even as he fell, and Chance’s father lunged toward the man — time snapped back to the room; a lot of things happened all at once. A sound like rapid-fire sneezes caught. Chance’s father cried out in pain, fell. Chance kicked at the man, but the man used the hand that wasn’t holding his gun to catch Chance’s foot, lifted hard and pushed. Chance’s feet came out from under him, but he twisted even as he fell so that he swept the man’s legs upon hitting the floor. The gun coughed when it hit the ground, and the computer monitor exploded.
The man twisted and his gun coughed again, again; Chance dove as bullets gone wild punched fist-sized holes into the wall behind him, and the man kicked him in the abdomen. All Chance’s breath steam-whistled out of him, and then the man smashed Chance across the face and he tumbled backward.
Another cough, and another: the man was shooting again, and then brick-wall pain blasted across Chance’s shoulder so hard it spun him around. He smashed front-first into his father’s desk. The man’s gun hacked, spat, again, then sprung-locked impotent. The man pushed it forward, forward, like he didn’t want it to believe it was empty.
Chance tried to move but…
Notice the flow of the action. It is poetic, cinematic, without any overwriting. And yet it is not so sparse that it renders the narrative inaccessible to the reader’s imagination. This is the writing of bestsellers.
Entrekin is a stellar collection of work by a writer of promise.
UPDATE (September 2015): This work is no longer in publication. If you're interested in reading this work, consider contacting the author via his website.