BY SEAN CLARK

Author: E. Thomas Finan

2010, Fieldnor Press

Filed Under: Short Stories, Literary, Short-Run

The Other Side is the debut collection by the young E. Thomas Finan. In ten relatively short stories, Finan displays a fine range of subject matter, and a clear aptitude with words. The first two stories, “Lucy di Sartoria” and “Motley Black” are decent examples of contemporary realist fiction, with dynamic characters standing before plausible emotional crossroads. Others, like “Billy Stevens is 28,” feel a bit lacking in maturity.

Finan’s staccato syntax and flair for snappy details are his strong suit. Take this one:

That cigarette-stained laughter, again.

There were plenty of catchy lines like this, which I found myself underlining, and many that don’t stand out on their own but build together to form a very readable narrative voice. But there are also occasional outliers, lines that made me cringe just a little:

Then there was a sound. It was like a gorilla falling into a swimming pool. I opened my eyes.

Also:

The hand is duly given: an eddy of clapping.

This is emblematic of the story collection as a whole. There’s a lot of good in all these stories, and a few flirt with some great aspects. Yet no single story can put them all the parts into one well-oiled machine. This is a collection by a talented young writer whose work needs just a little more fine-tuning to reach the next echelon.

For instance, the short “Dunes Like White Elephants” (an obvious nod to Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”–a writing course staple) is a serviceable example of homage: instead of not speaking about an abortion, these characters are vaguely talking around keeping a baby. But it reads like it could easily have been the product of a writing assignment Finan received as a student. It lacks the devastating emotional subtext Papa was so good at effecting with his iceberg theory.

Take the titular “The Other Side” that closes the collection. One of the more enjoyable stories, it’s a one-sided epistolary account of a girl living in a maybe-haunted house who discovers she has telekinetic powers. Like the other stories, it’s well-written and has an appealing hook. The ending, however, falls into an amateurish ta-da! trap: her boyfriend also has powers. It’s pretty hard not to let the reader down with such an ending, and Finan offers no exception. It’s a foreseeable and somewhat schlocky twist further cheapened when delivered by a character-narrator.

Finan is a name worth watching for. He demonstrates in this collection has a strong command of language and with some more polish the stories he puts out could certainly become worth getting excited about.

Similar Reads: The Voting Booth After Dark (Garcia), Injuring Eternity (Accardi), Night Soul and Other Stories (McElroy)

[A review was requested and a review copy provided.]

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