Saturday, 18 September 2021

on a distant ridgeline - Sam Reese

 Sam Reese may be a new name to many of you. He was to me! But he is no longer thank goodness! If there is any justice in the world his name should become well known with the publication of this short story collection.  

About Sam
Hailing from Aotearoa, Sam Reese is an award- winning writer, critic, and teacher. Currently a lecturer in creative writing at York St John University, he is the author of the short story collection Come the Tide and non-fiction books on jazz, literature and loneliness, American short fiction, and Cold War politics.

In his second collection, on a distant ridgeline, Sam Reese creates twelve vivid and tenderly drawn tales with moments and memories that linger just out of reach. Between the past and present and potential reconciliations —and with a keen eye on the subtle balance of human connection—relationships and their fractured qualities are central to this new gathering of stories.

I always feel the modern short story is an underrated literary genre. I have likened it in the past to a tennis Grand Slam tournament! The big players eschew the doubles so that they can focus on the singles. And yet the doubles matches are so entertaining and skilful, they can be delightful to watch. And so the “big” writers eschew the short story in favour of the novel. Of course I know that’s a sweeping generalisation, before you clamour to object and cite writers like Ishiguro and Margaret Atwood but you know what I mean? And whilst I’m sure that publishers would bite off their hands to get a collection of short story from a “big“ writer how difficult must it be for the lesser known writer to get a collection published? 

So I am always delighted when I get my grubby little mitts on a short story collection, particularly from a lesser-known writer. There is something so satisfying and so completist about being able to read a story in its entirety which it is so possible to do with a short story because obviously it’s of less duration than a full length novel. And yet in the hands of a competent author a short story can contain as much depth, emotion, comment and fulfilment as the aforementioned full-length novel.

And Sam Reese is a competent author! His collection offers twelve seemingly diverse stories and indeed they are diverse but somehow there is a common feel that runs through the entire collection giving a cohesion to the volume as a whole. Something that struck me so forcibly was the quality of the writing. There is a fusion here between poetry and prose. The language is vibrant and exciting, full of imagery and metaphor that gives the work a substance that might not exist were it “mere“ storytelling.  I did not feel they were plot driven stories, more language and character led. That’s not to say that the plots were uninteresting, they take the stuff of ordinary lives and just add a quirk or two here and there which allows the characters to run with that and the prose, to explore an idea or two. 

There is cooperation demanded from the reader for in several of the stories the conclusions are open-ended and it will be down to the imagination and the thought processes of each individual reader to ponder what might be, or even their own experiences of life. There are  coming of age stories, stories about filial love, friendship, the observations of children, and how we can misconstrue the past. My own  particular favourites were An Experience, Magpies, the titular on a distant ridgeline and the opening story - and the glow worms sing.

All in all a thoroughly edifying experience and my thanks to Isabel Kenyon of  Fly on the Wall Press for the opportunity to read this engaging collection of short stories.

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