So this is my first foray in to reading a collection of stories. And oh what a wonderful collection this was! Very much enjoyed reading these!
I feel that Publisher’s Weekly captured these stories nicely in this description/review: In Trafford’s debut story collection, he reveals a satirical 21st-century Gothic sensibility as his protagonists struggle to come to terms with grief: a boy is forced by his abusive father to watch the dissection of a mermaid; angels descend from heaven to go clubbing in Brooklyn; a rotting corpse joins a group of men on a camping trip. In “Thoracic Exam,” “iFaust,” and “The Renegade Angels of Parkdale,” bereaved protagonists navigate a surreal world whose bizarreness reflects and even mocks their sadness. Meanwhile, in “Past Perfect” or “Forgetting Helen,” Trafford attempts a Joycean correction of literary tradition, making room for the experiences of gay men who love and suffer, even if the Western canon neglects their lives. Despite very similar characters, Trafford’s work is formally innovative, such as in “Victim Services,” which takes a kaleidoscopic view of a school tragedy and its aftermath by means of gerunds and long, descriptive, appositive phrases. While Trafford’s experiments risk becoming gimmicky, the collection is saved from pretentiousness by his persistent wit, which punctures the abundant pessimism and heartbreak. Disturbing and perhaps too self-consciously literary, this series of thought-experiments is nonetheless eminently readable, shot-through with moments of genuine pathos and even brilliance.
Honestly, that was a wonderful synopsis of these stories. My very favourites from this collection were: PAST PERFECT (just lovely and sad); iFAUST(I’m a total sucker for old men writing to their dead wives, consulting, asking advice, etc. Trafford captures this in such a compassionate and loving way, just broke my heart wide open! The irony about religion was not lost on me either.); GUTTED (this is the “mermaid” story and was deeply disturbing. What a disturbed father this poor boy has! This passage really pulled at me, because I knew that the father had lost all touch with anything remotely based in reality:
“Tomorrow’s the big day, son,” my father said, wiping his brow. “They’re going to send someone out from the university to take a look at what we got here. So make sure you clean up good before you come down here tomorrow. If you behave, I might let you be in the picture with me.
FORGETTING HELEN (I thought this was simply beautiful. I loved the approach to this story about his unexpected discovery of his sexuality and felt it was also a tender story about needing to break out and see more of the world, and experience it for oneself:
She reached into the bag for a pinch and shot her arms into the air, releasing the powder in a cloud. It swirled around me like a small cyclonel then the wind took it, dispersed the particles in all directions and blew them through the city. “We cannot protect you from the heartbreaks of the world, but you will always be welcome and safe in the place you were born,” Maria said, “When the library is too far from you, scatter this powder wherever you are, and the safety and comfort of this place will come to you. Now, wherever the wind blows in this city, you will be at home.” I clutched the bag to my heart.
VICTIM SERVICES: Wow, I was blown away by this one! Wished it could have gone on for longer! Unique, thrilling and disturbing and oh again, I wished I could read more…
I also got a kick out of THE DIVNITY GENE and the way it opened as though reading a Wikipedia page. 🙂
Just a tremendously enjoyable and wonderfully written collection of stories. There were really only two in the bunch that weren’t the greatest for me, but overall, I so thorougly enjoyed reading this collection. Looking forward to more from Matthew!
The opportunity to speak to Matthew J. Trafford happens on March 27 as part of the Opinionless online book club. I definitely want to ask him why he wrote himself in as a character in CAMPING AT DEAD MAN’S POINT?
You can find more about Matthew here from the publisher’s site.
Here is a review for The Divinity Gene that appeared in the National Post. I quite like it and he delves more in to story “The Divinity Gene” which was also wonderful. And probably gives a much better review than myself here. Oh you know, the whole collection was great, just read them all for yourself.
Now I’m intrigued to read more story collections.
Jackie says The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman is a collection, and Amy Tan has just released her first writing in over 6 years, and it too is a collection of short stories.
4 thoughts on “The Divinity Gene”
Starting this one next!
Great review! I’m glad you liked! I think we agree on one of the stories you didn’t care for much, but disagree on the other. Just a couple of notes for folks who are interested:
It’s not quite as good as the National Post, but the Opinionless review is here 🙂
Also folks that are interested in joining the book club and chatting with Mr. Trafford can go here to sign up (it’s totally free, but you’re responsible for getting the books!):
Yes, please feel free to join us! It’s always a good time and interesting insight to the author’s thoughts!!
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