Saturday, June 30, 2012
The Law of Strings - Steven Gillis
The Law of Strings and Other Stories
Atticus Books, release date August 31, 2012
Imagine yourself balanced tentatively on a tightrope, suspended over a chasm so deep it will mean your destruction if you fall, and a destination, should you succeed, equally terrifying in its unfamiliarity. Like the ropewalker in "Falling" - and so many of the characters in these intense and twisty stories - this is the sensation one experiences in reading The Law of Strings and Other Stories. You have has stepped off of sure ground and out into space. Out here on the wire, anything can happen.
The author takes us to fantastical and dangerous places, often stretching our knowledge of the physical world in the process. Gillis convincingly and rather poignantly includes a man who floats, an immovably dense girl, and a future self alongside a cast of more familiar characters. What his characters all seem to share is a simultaneous fear of and desperate desire for connection and intimacy: he seems to suggest that the vulnerablity we expose in our relationships is the most dangerous exposure of all - and yet we can't stop ourselves from going there. Sometimes this manifests itself in ways that are chilling, for example, in the tightrope walker who cannot admit his love for his lover and holds her frighteningly under the water; in some it is tragic, as it is for Whare, a would-be lover who in a moment of jealousy aims an arrow at a rival. In others, like Hurbestone, a grieving magician, Gillis creates a lovely and poignant portrayal of a man who cautiously considers love through the lens of magic.
A few of the stories veer into gritty and even disturbing territory (such as "The Society for the Protection of Animals" in which a couple who rescues abused dogs finds themselves caged, one I didn't like quite as well), but each is fraught with tension between conflicting desires and a surprising mix of real and surreal, making for exciting reading. Moreover, Gillis leaves each story still in motion, with just a hint at where the true conclusion lies. I found myself heading back into the collection after I finished to study them just a little more closely, and often to marvel once again. Recommended for readers for whom the conventional just won't do - and who aren't afraid of heights.
My thanks to the publishers for an advance review copy of The Law of Strings.