Reviewed by Amanda Hale
The Marginal Ride Anthology is a great read. Two stories each from eight writers on the topic of marginality, and how to negotiate a way through the world from that place. Set in various locations across the globe, drawing on both memory and current experience, the stories reflect and evoke deep emotion. One of the most poignant for me is Caroline Vu’s "Mai’s Story," about a Vietnamese refugee child who is abandoned by her mother. When she is grown and has transformed her life, Mai returns to the refugee camp in the Philippines. “Why am I here again?” she asks herself. “… to see with my own eyes young children searching for their lost parents … to meet girls who had betrayed their past to become someone else.” This story captures the loyalty of the small child who lives in each of us despite the trajectory of our lives, successful or not. “I want her to know her silence still speaks to me. This is my only wish,” Mai says of her absent mother.
Michael Mirolla’s "Billy" deals with his marginalization by becoming a pathologically cruel gangster. Told in Mirolla’s signature quirky comedic style, this story entertains as it horrifies with scalpel-written violence. The surprising twist at the end of Billy carries us into the philosophical sphere of eternal recurrence.
"The Phone Number" by Geza Tatrallyay is a chilling story of sex trafficking, vividly evoking the knife-edge existence of girls lured into the trade, and the scum they are subject to.
"In The Writing Life," Jerry Levy tackles the dissonance between art and life, with its accompanying isolation of the writer, pondering on Gustave Flaubert’s comment on a family having fun in a playground, “Ils sont dans le vrai.” “What are we to make of such sentiments,” the writer asks, “that the family was ‘in the right?’ That perhaps real life lies elsewhere, other than in the writer’s lair?”
The theme of marginalization that runs through each story covers a variety of situations from dementia – as in Ursula Pflug’s "The Dream of Trees," where Sandrine struggles to remember her husband’s name – to approaching death in Ian Thomas Shaw’s "Ashes and Clay," to refugees, childhoods marred by violence and broken homes, a man’s life ruined by the false accusation of his son in Caroline Vu’s "Please, Dr. Luu," to the daily lives of Palestinians, to Mirolla’s tale of a werewolf in "Lycanthropy." When you begin to examine this theme you realize that we are all in some way marginalized. Is there a “normal” life? What do we actually know of each other’s inner lives, caught up as we are with appearances?
Ian Thomas Shaw, one of the collection's editors, tells a poignant story in "The Scent of Lemons" of young love thwarted by a language barrier. This story is overlaid with the complexities of cultural displacement and shows the uncompromising vigilance of an Eritrean family in the protection of young Gabriella. The girl has forgotten her Eritrean language since coming to Italy. This is a source of shame for her and, worse, prevents her from speaking with Jemal, an Eritrean boy whose mysterious identity is subtly hinted at as the reason for the family’s vigilance.
“‘Who is he?’ asks Gabriella. ‘Never mind,’ says her aunt. ‘I want you to stay away from him.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Just do what I ask.’ Gabriella sees in her aunt’s face a determination to assert her authority.”
The multicultural representation in these stories renders them particularly rich. With a diversity of writers, we gain insight into diverse lives and characters all connected by the well-chosen and timely theme of marginality.
Sang Kim’s "Spoiled Rice" stands out as a cinematically written and heart-wrenching story of two children stuck between Family Services and their warring parents. Alcoholism, violence, and infidelity are filtered through the innocent eyes of Yong Su, a Korean boy, as the story is told with humour and wit from that childhood place of unquestioning acceptance. When Mom leaves, the kids and their dad move into a motel where Mrs. Chung features as a puzzling “babysitter” figure until Yong Su sees her, through a crack in the door, in bed with his dad. The final image of grains of rice that “looked like maggots moving along the grass” is just one of many vivid images in a welter of cultural reference and childhood observation.
Timothy Niedermann’s "The Long Walk" is an account of a 53-year-old man fired from his job in a cold and heartlessly efficient manner. This story is told in clinical detail, even to the last minute, which is a punch in the gut. Niedermann’s second story, "The Wedding," also ends suddenly and shockingly, especially so after a beautiful build-up to a traditional Palestinian wedding. Hanif, father of the groom, goes “from door to door in the village to invite every household to take part. This naturally took several days. He was often invited in, given coffee … And where he found nobody in, he had to return. No one was to be left out. No one.” There is description of village life where “nothing is really anonymous or private,” where you “feel you are a part of them, a member of a family.” There are references to the long hours endured at Israeli military checkpoints, crossing over on errands, for classes, for work – anything. I wanted just for once to have a happy ending to a beautiful story. The afterword indicates that it is based on a true event.
The Marginal Ride Anthology is a story collection that will stir the reader. It brought me to tears more than once. It will also delight and stimulate you. Bravo to the editors and to the writers for a thought-provoking and emotionally stimulating collection!
The Marginal Ride Anthology, co-edited by Ian Thomas Shaw and Timothy Niedermann, is published by Deux Voiliers Publishing.