Monday, August 04, 2008

REVIEW: Burning In The Heat

Title: Burning In The Heat
Author: Michael Martin
Price: $ 12.95
Genre: Literature, Short Story, Contemporary, Psychological
ISBN: 978-1-4357-3096-0
Point of Sale: Lulu

Yup, I really have a thing for deviant and damaged, especially when it is so well written and so well actualized. In these superbly crafted stories, we get to see the horror of human nature, its psychosis, the cause and its effects, but more importantly we get to see it from the eyes of the affected not the afflicted. The dialog is believable, the anguish tangible, and the tragic comedy is toasted to a poignant shade of black. These stories are honest in their pain, beautiful and honest.

In Beyond the Hills we have self-esteem issues and suicidal tendencies. In Marco we have a story that depicts how easy loneliness can lay us into the hands of evil. In Little T we are confronted with the burgeoning criminal mind and vigilante justice, but justice nonetheless --this story, by far, has the best ending. We also have terrorists and big brother government political statement stories, which are not to my taste, but well done nonetheless. All in all, there is a smattering of themes, a variety of voices, some close and deeply personal and some rather detached … yes, there is something for everyone, except sci-fi. Sorry, no vampires or aliens here, unless you are speaking metaphorically of course.

There are fifteen stories in this book, and not surprisingly, they are consistent and fluid…some might say formulaic, as most of the stories end in the same manner, ambiguous and abrupt, but this may have been intentional on the author’s part. However, we do have real emotion here, innocent emotion, not just within the dialog but within the thoughts and abrupt realizations of the narrators. We have innocence lost, secrets revealed, hidden shame and guilt, and we have triumphant virtue and justice, and it is all penned by a reserved and restrained will. There is no boundary pushing here, which is one of my only complaints, and that is purely a personal preference issue.

“…the world can be a perilous place for those who are shielded only by their innocence.”

That line sums up this book so eloquently. Most of the characters in these stories have lost their innocence in some tragic fashion or another, issues and insecurities are deep-seated, and the author has portrayed each to a well-constructed perfection. Some of these stories are quite forceful and the subject matter rather volatile but the writing is elegant and full of sarcasm, wit, and intrigue, so we don’t feel as devastated by the stories as we could. I found myself nodding my head with a salty smile of satisfaction most of the time. In these stories we have all manner of demons and monsters, and all manner of frightening scenarios from suicide, to rape, to murder, to the angst of the singles scene, to terrorism and big brother. Despite the unsettling themes, each tale is told through virtue’s eyes, innocent eyes, and so we can bear the weight of their impact. We can not only see humanity’s darkness here, we can feel its strengths and weaknesses as well, and we can share in it just enough for it not to be painful.

There are a lot of stories in this book, all are in contemporary settings, but most importantly, the settings and the characters are believable and relatable. The language and style is also of the contemporary literature variety and is easy to read even if the themes are uncomfortable. The editing is spot-on. I have few critical comments really: some of the stories lacked the subconscious emotional depth I generally prefer – a bit of all tell no show -- the endings seemed a bit formulaic after a while, and I thought the cover really didn’t do the book the justice it so deserved. Minor flaws aside, this one is a good read for those who like short very relatable stories of the mainstream humanity-angst type. I rarely give high marks to contemporary literature as I am an old-school literary snob when it comes to my personal preferences for language, style and depth of emotion, but thematically this one is pretty darn close. I hope to read more from this author. I would really like to see what would happen if he loosened the grip on his pen for a moment.

If I had to pick a favourite story, it would be the very first one “Beyond the Hills” as in this one we get a tiny taste of what might happen if the author bared his shadow a bit more. On a side note … I think all writers will be able to relate and appreciate the stories “Obscurity” and “Fame.” I know I did, so, well done.


Cheryl Anne Gardner is a retired writer of dark, often disturbing, literary novellas with romantic/erotic undertones. She is an avid reader and an independent reviewer with Podpeople blogspot and Amazon where she blogs regularly on AmazonConnect. She is an advocate for independent film, music, and books, and when at all possible, prefers to read and review out of the mainstream Indie published works, foreign translations, and a bit of philosophy. She lives with her husband and two ferrets on the East Coast, USA.


Breeni Books said...

Nice to see a new review from Cheryl!

Of course, this sounds exactly like my kind of book. If Cheryl raves that much about it, then it has to be worth my time. Adding it to my wishlist now.

Ma T said...

I've read Burning In The Heat, and this review, in my opinion, is spot on in its comments. My thoughts on reading the book were that the author is very insightful about people and what motivates them. Not only that, but he's writing about the people with whom we work, those with whom we're neighbors, or those who we think we know but do we really know them at all? It takes a good reviewer and careful reader to pick up on all of that, and I think Cheryl has captured in her review what makes these stories so special.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Thanks for the review kudos. It was an easy review because I really loved the work, conceptually and in the writing style. If you love insightful character works, this is one to read.

Mik said...

Received a copy of this book from Michael, so looking forward to sitting down and digging in. Great review.