Desperation. Violence. Broken homes and broken hearts. Fathers, junkies, and thieves.
In this gritty new collection, one bad choice begets another, and redemption is a twisted mirage. An ex-addict takes a detour with his young son and comes face-to-face with an old drug dealer and an unsettled debt. A down-on-his-luck gambler visits his estranged sister while figuring out his next play. An Iraq War vet fights a personal battle to reconcile life as a civilian. Three boyhood friends stumble upon a dark secret in a rural dump.
These and the other troubled characters that inhabit the streets and alleys of these stories continually find themselves at the mercy of a cold, indifferent world as they hurtle downward and grapple for hard-won second chances in a life that seldom grants them.
Houses Burning is a powerful and moving collection of short stories, featuring a variety of well-worn characters - all struggling with life and its obstacles, whether it is in the form of relationship issues, addictions or economic hardship or a combination of several things. The majority of the situations are exacerbated by our protagonists continuing to make poor decisions, all predominantly selfish.
The full collection comprises the following stories .....
The Long Drive Home .... separation, relationship issues, a road trip and a reunion, a trip that already hasn't ended well for one of our participants and a sense of foreboding for the others in our family drama
Space Station Stereo .... addiction, music, addiction, lives out of control
All Things Come Around .... family, secrets, escape, a new life, a collision with the old world, another escape
Small Change .... family, estrangement, resentment, loss, gambling, homelessness, fecklessness, desperation, reconnecting, using, taking advantage, injecting and infecting your own special brand of poison, pulling the pin from the grenade and walking away
Spaces .... military service, alienation, re-adjustment or not, disconnection from society
Recompense .... an ill-advised hold-up, fatal consequences
The Ghost of Green Valley .......'75, Summer, kids playing, a body discovered on the dump, a troubling look into the world of adults and secrets, an imperceptible loss of innocence and growing up overnight, haunting memories lingering in later life.
Tally Ho .... a taxi driver, to the rescue, a star of the movie playing in his head, a hero, a real life Travis Bickle, a woman to save, a woman - addicted, influenced, whoring, not sure if she wants or needs saving, our man a patsy, turned man of action
Waiting for Tomorrow ..... addiction, ugly, painful, fund-raising - small grifts, cons, jonesing, disappointment, anxiety, urgency, delusions - where it's easy to think everything is under control, small moments of clarity - when you know it isn't. Stop tomorrow! Repeat cycle, repeat.
Houses Burning ..... a broken family, a feckless dad, an off the rails son, a moved on but harassed mum, the dad with regrets and a recognition of losing something precious, with its value only ever appreciated after it's gone. A struggle to connect and avoid the son repeating the idiocy of the father, a struggle to breakthrough walls and barriers and turn a life around. Ultimately a story which left me with some hope of a brighter future
I have a couple of favourites in the collection - Houses Burning and The Ghost of Green Valley - but none of the stories I read left me feeling indifferent, which is something very scarce to encounter.
All the stories feature pretty ordinary people - albeit in some extraordinary situations - entering a shop with a gun, injecting a substance, ripping off a drug dealer, stalking an ex-wife, picking up a tire iron - but they are people that could have been family members, friends, neighbours, people you worked with or went to school with and I think therein lies the power of the collection.
Some of the choices made and the mistakes leading to wrong roads travelled aren't so different from the ones we all face. A kind of there but for the grace of God thing. Who hasn't at times succumbed to temptation, behaved shamefully, acted with selfishness and doesn't live with some regrets.
4.5 from 5
This was my first time reading Bill Soldan's work, but not my last. A couple of his other collections sit on the pile - Lost in the Furrows and In Just the Right Light.
Read - May, 2021
Published - 2021 (7th May - today)
Page count - 216
Source - review copy from author
Format - PDF read on laptop