Blind Swimmer – an Eibonvale Press Anthology
David Rix, Editor
Trade Paper, 360 pages, $15.67/£10
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
Isolation. Estrangement. Alone. Such words resonate with writers. Blind Swimmer is an anthology that acknowledges the solitude and anxieties intrinsic in literary creativity. Thematically embracing authors’ aesthetic alienation, this compilation emphasizes the dichotomy between longing to communicate, yet feeling a vulnerable disconnect in the throes of expression. At once philosophical and intellectual, the collection still strikes emotional chords. As stated in one of its stories, Nina Allan’s “Bellony:” “It was like tugging on a piece of loose wire and bringing the whole house down.”
Allan’s tale, about a magazine journalist looking into the disappearance of a beloved author, illustrates the ties that bind reader and writer. A fan of the missing writer since childhood, the investigator searches for clues to the mystery in the woman’s home town: “There was a resigned insularity about everything. People seemed to be enjoying themselves, but in a restrained manner that spoke of predictable pleasures, of aging relatives and wet Sundays, of a cloying tranquility whose inevitable end was the claustrophobia of stasis and the need for escape.” During the course of her research in the vicinity, the freelancer discovers biographical legerdemain in the scribe’s legacy of work. Facts and fiction blur. The cryptic quality of this atmospheric story has a Daphne du Maurier vibe that stresses perception’s enigmatic aspect.
Perception is literally addressed in “The Man who Saw Grey,” by Brendan Connell. The protagonist is a man with artistic aspirations, but his wife dismisses his craving to make a living off his painting as a pipedream. After sustaining a head injury, he finds he can only see in grey – no colors, no black or white. This alters his look on life; everything appears dingy and horribly unappealing. In an utterly unnerving passage, he makes love to the spouse he previously thought of as beautiful: “Her skin reminded him of a rat’s; all her faults suddenly became glaring; he could see how her bones protruded from her flesh and her chest, with its small, coarse breasts, made him feel as if he were pressing up against the living dead.” This allegorical story about deprival of dreams and descent into neutral numbness is very powerful. It metaphorically depicts an individual of vision; driven to the drab and colorless, by the ruthlessness of cold reality.
Subjective reality is examined from the point of view of three characters in Terry Grimwood’s “The Higgins Technique.” After a brutal assessment of her recent sales, a female author goes to a bookstore where she surveys the current fare and concludes: “I have no desire to research police procedure or explore war torn London where feisty young women fall in love with brave, square-jawed servicemen, I’m not interested in glamour or the film industry or the music industry. Who cares which vampire is in love with which werewolf.” What does attract her attention is the section on erotica. She decides to go undercover as a porn actress for the Dirty Trix website. The site’s film director had cinematic pretensions: “I believed I could make artistic porn, muck with filmic integrity.” The third first person account is that of a masturbating website watcher. He fabricates a back-story around the basic woman in sexual peril scenario, giving the central character reasons for being in this sordid situation. The trio of points of view enhances the notion of a relationship between director, performer, and audience; a dynamic that also exists with wordsmith and reader. Each narrator in the tale feels severed from society. There is poignancy in spite of the lurid setting.
Blind Swimmer is an anthology of eleven stories by writers in the stable of Eibonvale Press. The theme of the volume is unusual, and the writing is generally of high caliber. It will appeal to the creatively and emotionally disenfranchised, who seek the dubious rewards and ancillary angst of communication. And to those of us who appreciate the oh-so satisfying solitary act of reading.