Maelstrom: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group Literary Anthology 2019 was released recently, and I wanted to elaborate on some of its contents as I think that might be of particular value to regular readers of this blog or to readers who appreciate literature generally.
As I say in the blurb to Maelstrom, the word ‘literary’ is defined as ‘concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form’. ‘Quality of form’ isn’t as vague as it might sound at first — when we read a ‘good book’ — in other words a piece of literature— we are looking, consciously or unconsciously, for connections, dimensions and resonances between things in that work and perhaps in our own lives. A literary tale is not just a ‘Then this happened, then this happened…’ account of an incident, but a formed piece, and that forming shows in its effects on the reader. Maelstrom has these effects in abundance.
Take the first story, ‘The Damaged Pony’, by Steve Carr. Carr’s work tends to lie in the literary part of the fiction spectrum because there is more often than not more to what we read than the surface events. This is even more noteworthy because Carr’s style is highly cinematographic: he appears to simply describe, often in some detail, the objects, scenes and actions that occur in the story as though he has placed a camera in the middle of them to objectively record what is happening. But as the outer details accumulate, the power of the fiction grows through what is NOT shown — the invisible, intangible, assumed, emotional vacuums and potentials which his concentration on physical detail is purposefully omitting.
In ‘The Damaged Pony’, for example, the surface events are to do with a wild horse which has injured itself in the wilderness and which must be dealt with according to the pragmatic ways of nature and humanity. But parallel to learning about the horse, we follow the family relationships involving the parents of an autistic child, and have that child’s perceptions and reactions to the events around him to contend with.
The whole thing seems to be progressing along as a small family drama, but quickly tips us over the edge emotionally as we, again either consciously or unconsciously, become aware of the metaphorical connections, the unsuspected dimensions, and the deep resonances between the state of the pony and the decisions that must be made concerning it, and the corresponding condition of the child and his relations with others. By the time we reach the final line of the tale — which I won’t spoil for you here — the pent-up but almost entirely unstated emotions involved in the narrative strike us potently. It’s something of which Carr is a master, this careful description of an outer world which evokes what’s missing in it in the reader’s emotional plane, until the strands suddenly pull together with powerful effect.
And that’s just the opening tale in Maelstrom: Sharon Frame Gay’s ‘Second Sight’ is another piece of literary magic, developing an initially foolish accident — a woman who inadvertently glues her eyelids together — into a devastating insight into a world which, sighted, she had taken for granted. By taking away the narrator’s sight, the author grants her revelation after revelation and through her, the reader begins perhaps to look subliminally at structures and narratives that he or she has erected which may be built on false foundations too.
When I said in the book’s blurb that ‘it’s unlikely you will put this book down unchanged’, I did not do so idly: each tale in Maelstrom packs its own punch. Some are lighter than others, but each carries that weight which only comes with literature: the gravity of connection, the impetus of dimension, the inertia of resonances between things outlined in the fiction and things that surround us as we read, objectively and subjectively.
Lovers of literature will find much to love in this anthology.