Good fortune is in short supply in the unforgiving world depicted in Cut Road, Brent Van Staalduinen’s debut collection of stories. Van Staalduinen’s prize-winning short fictions are populated by the walking wounded, people struggling to get on with their lives but finding themselves stymied by straitened circumstances and past trauma. Many of his characters are former servicemen and -women who have witnessed combat first-hand, who have been damaged by the experience and now find themselves out of sync with the rhythms of ordinary life. Other of his characters are living rough and self-medicating to dull the pain. All of his characters are uncomfortable in their skin and disarmingly vulnerable.
“Skinks” is the heart-rending tale of self-destructive army vet Jesse, who is lying in a hospital bed in a vegetative state after being gravely injured in a fight in which the other man died. The story is narrated by young Wendell, the autistic son of Jesse’s girlfriend Vicki. Wendell, who reveres Jesse and can’t understand why Jesse won’t let Wendell call him father, distracts himself from the tragedy of the situation by hunting the tiny lizards inhabiting the hospital corridors. “Qom” is narrated by Ilona, mother of 4-year-old Sheen who suffers from mysterious seizures. In a desperate effort to alleviate their daughter’s torment, Ilona and her husband injured combat vet Matt, have decided to treat her with weed purchased off-market from a supplier recommended by Ilona’s sister. As they administer the dose, Sheen gazes at the silk carpet that Matt brought back from Afghanistan and seems to draw comfort from the intricate tribal pattern of the stitching.
The collection takes a fanciful turn amidst all the heartbreak in “Declination,” in which Hasp, months away from high-school graduation, facing pressure to decide what comes next in his life, and living at home with his terminally ill mother and his mother’s partner Angela, unexpectedly finds himself in a position to ease their money troubles when he starts vomiting up precious gemstones. And in “The Echoes are All Mine” Mason and Isaac, workers in a marshland park, commit a serious dereliction of duty when they come across a homeless veteran named Jacob camped on their turf and neglect to have him removed, as they’re directed to do. But their act, which on first glance seems charitable, backfires the next day when they discover Jacob barely alive, having OD’ed on pain medication.
Throughout the book, Van Staalduinen’s writing is subtle, controlled and persuasive. In each story he is quick to establish a sense of dramatic urgency, instantly drawing the reader in. We meet his characters as they confront personal crossroads where they face life-altering decisions. His people are hard on themselves, and, like most of us, they question their actions, wondering afterward if they’ve done the right thing.
In Cut Road, Brent Van Staalduinen presents a world of moral uncertainty, where the pressures of daily life never let up and people have no choice but to fumble their way through adversity if they want to survive. This is the world we live in, warts and all, expertly rendered.
Brent van Staalduinen is the author of the novels Nothing But Life, Boy, and Saints, Unexpected. His short stories have won the Bristol Short Story Prize, the Fiddlehead Short Fiction Award, and the Lush Triumphant Literary Award and have appeared in numerous literary journals in Canada and abroad. A former high school English teacher, tree planter, and army medic, Brent now finds himself writing, working at the local library, and wandering around Hamilton looking for stories.
- Publisher : Guernica Editions (June 1 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 244 pages
- ISBN-10 : 177183725X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1771837255