People talk about love at first sight, but what they really mean is recognition. You look in someone's eyes, could be anyone, a childhood friend or a stranger waiting for the bus, and in an instant, things are different. Like they've pulled aside a curtain and let you look deeper than flesh.
Two weeks ago, I didn't know who Marcus Sakey was. The sole reason why I picked up SCAR TISSUE : SEVEN STORIES OF LOVE AND WOUNDS, was that he gave 100% of the profits to help find a cure for the calamity that is pediatric cancer. Now that pediatric cancer awareness month is over, Sakey continues to fight the good fight and still gives 50% of his book's profits to the cause. It had some serious media coverage throughout September. To my relief, Sakey isn't a hack, riding a cause to get a fifteen minutes of spotlight for himself *. He is a true ally of the cause and a natural talent behind the keyboard. He is far above average in terms of narrative voice and atmosphere. SCAR TISSUE is a collection of gloomy tales about people who see the light at the end of the tunnel, but struggle to reach it.
Over the seven short stories Sakey offers us, I thought three stood out. The first, THE DAYS WHEN YOU WERE ANYTHING ELSE is arguably the longest and was published in Todd Robinson's edited anthology SEX, THUGS & ROCK N' ROLL. The narrator Frank is haunted by his failure as a father when he gets out of the joint. His daughter torments him with her own pain, calling him in dead of night. When she gets abducted, it will require a sacrifice of him that he's not ready to make. GRAVITY AND NEED is a beautiful love story, and while the plot feels a little truncated to make a closed story arc into a short, the characterization is so powerful, it doesn't really matter. THE DESERT HERE AND THE DESERT FAR AWAY is about a soldier, returning from war and Sakey gets out of the way of his protagonist's pain and PTSD and lets it write the story. It's brutal, hopeless and brilliant.
Marcus Sakey makes good use of the Kindle format and the short story collection to make a statement. SCAR TISSUE is a convincing display of talent and narrative power. His voice is of a ghost that echoes against the walls of an abandoned house that once harbored a happy family. His characters are not depressed for the sake of being depressed. The feeling of loss and grieving is potent in their speech and manners, but also in the lives they live. While his plots aren't always perfect, it's evident they are not the main concern in Sakey's stories. THE DAYS WHEN YOU WERE ANYTHING ELSE ends on a confusing note, but Frank gets certitudes about his relationship to his daughter and that's the most important point. The one he's been trying to drive home since page one.
She calls sometimes. Late at night, drunk or worse. She calls to say she hates me. One time she said a guy offered her money to blow him in a bar bathroom. Then, defiant, told me she'd done it. Fifty dollars, she said. That's what she's worth.
My Jessica. My baby girl.
There is somewhat an unexpected perk to reading SCAR TISSUE. Marcus Sakey introduces each short story with a small forewords that gives background information about it. I know what you're thinking. this kind of aparté could be a breeding ground for petulance. "I wrote this story after a fascinating discussion about the state of the Israel-Palestinian while drinking Mojitos in a Spanish hacienda, see I used the drunken depressed masturbator as a metaphor for..." But there is none of that. Sakey actually does things the right way and gives insight on his evolution as a writer for every story. From his first published short to his collaboration with J.A Konrath, you get the sense what Sakey has been through, of which insecurities he's battled in order to earn his stripes as a published author first and then as a published novelist. There is no ego in these little forewords, merely a pleasant presentation and even insight on how he climbed the ladder in the publishing business.
SCAR TISSUE: SEVEN STORIES OF LOVE AND WOUNDS is a hard deal to refuse. Not only it's tremendous dark fiction, delivered at the laughably low price only the Kindle Store can offer (2,99$), but also by buying it, you're increasing the hope of survival of a kid who's been stricken with a terrible disease right out of the crib. Even if you didn't have the humanitarian upside, Marcus Sakey's fiction still stands out in the wild west of ePublishing. If you like the tormented characters of Dennis Lehane and gritty landscapes of George Pelecanos, Marcus Sakey has a good thing going and it might just fall into your register. It fell right into mine and Sakey, right on my radar.
* Scoff all you want, these things happen.
I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.