Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: The Light on His Feet by Calder Lowe

A Prose Collection
Calder Lowe
(Dragonfly Press, 2014)

The rise of flash fiction has opened up a whole new borderland in writing, combining the clarity of prose with the hypereconomic compression of poetry. There is no more accomplished practitioner of the form than Calder Lowe, who has spent decades working either side of the fence, preparing for an ambush on the new genre.

What’s particularly striking about Lowe’s work is the music of her sentences and the precision of her word choices. The closest image I can conjure is that of a sculptor chipping down to the exact form hidden inside the marble. An excellent example is the final paragraph of “Deliverance,” the story of a toad who appears on the author’s porch the night of a despised uncle’s death:

“My lungs sought out the honeysuckle blooms tendrilling around the chain link fence and exhaled the perfumed night. The toad lurched toward the sprinklers’ mist and the mud – the mud took back its own.”

(Note the artful gerund-ing of “tendrilling.”)

The remarkable thing about this collection is that these little artworks are only the appetizers. The works range to clear-eyed memoir, prose poems and stories containing wild flights of imagination. My favorite, “The Bk’lyn Grrrl,” is a merry ramble through 1960s teenhood that manages to vibe Allen Ginsberg and Tom Robbins, rollercoastering around to an ending that smacks you in the face like cold water on a hot day.

The collection also has a fascinating light-to-dark ratio, careening from sweet remembrances like the title story (an elderly woman hires a male escort so she can remember the way the light fell on her late husband’s feet) to the dark confessional of “Crmson Lair,” in which a professor seeks revenge on a surly student. The final paragraph is as tasty as crème brulee:

“Kelly returned the phone to its cradle, kicked off her four-inch-high Manolos, propped her feet up on the top of her desk and began filing her long fingernails until they were sharp enough to pluck the eyes of a peregrine falcon in mid-flight.”

(Observe the crazy specificity of that last phrase.)

In a publishing world in which authors find their row and hoe it till they’re dead, it’s amazing to find such a buffet of styles in an 82-page collection. You’ll want to read it a few times over.

--Michael J. Vaughn

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