Ben Loory, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day
July 17, 2011 § Leave a comment
The man is on a path. It is a funny thing. Life sort of gives him hints. Just before the phone rings, the man will look over. When he gets an urge to play the lottery, he wins.
The man has a job and he does it very well. Everything comes easily to him. He makes the right calls; he says the right things; he gets raises and benefits and perks.
Then one day the man is walking home from work, when suddenly he is hit by a car. (p. 38)
Some stories enchant by a melodic flow of syllables that pound out a delicate, jazz-like rhythm that soon sinks into the reader’s psyche. Others depend upon staccato bursts, where the sentences are boiled down to their essentials, leaving nothing extraneous behind. Some tales build up to a crescendo, while others crash suddenly like the smashing of waves. Ben Loory’s debut collection, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is not at first glance evocative. He seems to write in the simplest of fashions, with simple, direct sentences that has more in common with Hemingway than with Maupassant or other prolix short fiction writers. Yet there is much more to Loory’s fictions than what might be readily apparent from excerpts such as the one taken from “The Path.”
One thing Loory does in several of the forty stories is create an off-beat juxtaposition of the mundane and the unreal. The short sentences Loory favors serve to build up expectations in one paragraph that then careen into something else in the next. The next part of “The Path” illustrates this shift:
The man wakes up in the hospital. He doesn’t understand.
Me? he says. Hit by a car?
He looks around. It doesn’t make sense.
And that’s when he sees – his path is gone.
The path he’s always been on is gone.
The man doesn’t know what to do anymore. How to – how to do anything. He doesn’t even know how to work the water fountain, can’t figure out when it’s time to go to the bathroom.
His wife and children come to visit; the man doesn’t know their names. (p. 38-39)
Now things have changed and the reader is left wondering about this man, who has lost his “path,” who has lost the memory of his wife and children. What will happen to him next? Loory, without resorting to elaborate wordplay or narrative sleights-of-hand, creates tension just from the simple combinations of character and situation (surreal as many of these are). He can have an octopus serving tea and from that WTF? moment move the story forward because the reader is paying attention to what is transpiring.
However, weirdness depends less on the grotesque or the out-of-place than it does on preconceptions of what is “normal,” on what is being transgressed. In most of these stories, there is a palpable sense of transgression taking place, such as what occurs at the very beginning of “The Hunter’s Head”:
A hunter returns to his village one night with a severed human head in one hand. He jams the head onto a stake and sticks it into the ground by his hut.Then he goes inside and falls asleep. (p. 41)
Is this story a horror? A pastiche of oddities? A dark, humorous tale? Something else in-between? There is a bit of most of these inside this tale, but its whole is more than a simple classification of its core elements into perceived genre tropes. Throughout this collection, Loory riffs on various narrative elements, but he rarely borrows wholecloth from any particular source. This mixing-and-mingling creates stories that feel at once familiar and strange because we recognize some of the elements they share with favorite fictions, but then the tales veer off into often-unexpected directions.
If there is a weakness to Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, it might be that despite the individual departures from reader expectations, on the whole the stories do resemble each other in narrative structure a bit too much in places. Although Loory’s deceptively straightforward prose works well, there is a sense of sameness that occurs after reading several of these stories in a single setting. This shortcoming, however, pales in comparison to the inventiveness that is displayed in Loory’s depictions of his sometimes-oddball characters and their rather unique situations. Readers who enjoy taking the roads less-traveled in their fiction will find much to enjoy in Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. Its use of the weird to say things about the mundane will appeal to many and Loory rarely lingers too long on a situation or a character’s plight. This debut collection is one of the better first offerings that I have read in a while and it ought to be attractive to a diverse set of readers. Highly recommended.