Gary A. Braunbeck
Creative Guy Publishing
December, 2013; $2.99 Kindle, $15.95 PB
Reviewed by Josh Black
Devotees of dark fiction likely need no introduction to the writing of Gary Braunbeck. For years his stories have horrified us, given us a sense of wonder, broken our hearts and put them back together (albeit with some permanent scars, like all the best writing tends to leave). Within the world of horror, he’s deservedly built a loyal and passionate fanbase. Rose of Sharon collects some of his literary and mainstream fiction, as well as poetry and odd vignettes. There’s certainly horror to be found here, but it’s a matter of perspective.
In many of these stories, Braunbeck examines the lives of people just trying to get by as the specter of death lingers ever close at hand. This specter takes form not merely as the cessation of human life. It’s in the more internal, but no less potent, death of our humanity toward each other. It’s also in the death of memory, and the lack of attention we sometimes give to the small but vital details of each other’s lives and our own. These are incisive stories with a deeply compassionate core, and when the horror shows up, it’s horror of the most realistic variety.
There’s a plaintive tone running through most of the pieces here, a hallmark of Braunbeck’s fiction. Quite a few of the stories, however, manage to view life in a way both elegiac and celebratory.
Perhaps the most overt example of this is the wonderfully lyrical The Queen of Talley’s Corner, a story of an aging woman reminiscing about happier times, spent with the love of her life. These memories are offset by the cold treatment she receives in a nursing home, and offset further by the perspective of a pair of women suddenly given the responsibility of her care. Their respective ambivalence and dismay create a striking counterpoint to her joyful monologues, the two perspectives coming together to illustrate the quiet horror of disconnection.
Need is another story that plays with perspective in a similar way. Also set in Cedar Hill (Braunbeck’s Castle Rock, if you will), its various characters and threads of plot encircle a family thrust suddenly into poverty, culminating in a gut-wrenching conclusion.
The writing itself is gorgeous throughout, character and place alike rendered with a poet’s eye for detail. Lengthy, expository passages of dialogue flow naturally. The stories here are impeccably captured snapshots of life, in all its grit and glory.
Rose of Sharon is an outstanding collection by a singular voice in modern fiction, genre or otherwise. If any book of Braunbeck’s is poised to draw his work from the shadows and into the literary limelight, this very well should be the one to do it. Highly recommended.