Title: The Sense of Touch
Author: Ron Parsons
Release date: April 2013
Genre: Short story collection
Source: Review copy (TLC Book Tours)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
The Sense of Touch, a collection of short stories by Ron Parsons, examines the lives of Midwesterners—the struggles and compromises, the joy and grief—set against larger-than-life landscapes.
A college student struggles to renew a relationship with a smart but strange friend from childhood. A wife returns, however briefly, to her husband’s farm and bed. A grief-stricken man reunites with a friend who sees much more than his damaged eyes let on. A twin contemplates the violence of baseball and grief.
It’s difficult to judge story collections, particularly when some resonate more than others. However, it can be illuminating to read an author’s collection of short stories; the strengths (and weaknesses) of his or her writing are on display.
Parsons’s greatest strengths lie in the strong sense of place permeating each story. The Midwest is vast, and Parsons moves from state to state in the stories. Yet the role of environment on relationships is a constant throughout the collection.
I talk a lot about place as a character in a story. Look, for example, to some of the best writing in television: Baltimore and Louisiana are as much characters in “The Wire” and “True Detective” as the people are.
Yet in this collection, place acts more as exposition. The vagaries of nature move the story forward even when the characters are frozen with indecision, fear, regret. In the title story, the main character realizes:
I wanted a sturdy, honest, decisive winter, where the air feels like a sharpened weapon… Every now and then, we can all use the feeling of a long deadening freeze. It makes you appreciate the mercy of a thaw.
And, later, as he’s driving from school in Minneapolis down home to Texas:
Layers seem to lift and wash away. And I remember things differently. History becomes reversible.
His life story seems as affected by his surroundings as it is by his own decisions.
While, as I’ve noted, not all of the stories connected with me, I still admired Parsons’s understated writing style.
“People change,” one stoic, nearly voiceless character reflects, “and they forget to let the other people know.” Another posits heartbreakingly: “There isn’t a grief that exists that refuses to soften and crack with time, but oh, what a long, sad cloud that was.”
I enjoyed Parsons’s way with words and the way he blends place with exposition, even when some of the stories themselves seemed to fall flat. I’d love to see more from him.
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