Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review : Craig Wallwork - Quintessence of Dust (2012)


Order QUINTESSENCE OF DUST here

My father said that the best way to a woman's heart was through her sternum. I took that literally and enrolled in medical school after leaving sixth-form college.

Try saying "Craig Wallwork" out loud, several times. It's tremendous facial gymnastics. Give it enough repetitions and your smile will pack enough power to atomize any form of resistance to your charm. Aside from being a workout for your face, Craig Wallwork is also an up-and-coming British author who likes to take fashiony selfies and give poetic titles to his work, like: THE SOUND OF LONELINESS, TO DIE UPON A KISS and the short story collection up for review today QUINTESSENCE OF DUST. By the way, while you can get a paperback version for a very advantageous price, the eBook is free. The short story collection format makes it difficult to assess if the fiction of Craig Wallwork lives up to his persona, but I'll tell you as much: he has the potential to.

It's not uncommon in short story collections to start off with one of its most solid stories. QUINTESSENCE OF DUST is no different here as it starts with NIGHT HOLDS A SCYTHE, which I thought was the most beautiful story of the collection and THE most beautiful short story I've read so far in 2013. A father and his young daughter are tying to escape a terrible plague that makes sleep deadly. They are tired, hypercaffeinated and yet, clinging to an abstract hope. In that story, Wallwork confronts innocence and fatality without falling in the easy pitfalls. There is no ready-made plague that hunts the father and the daughter. No nazis, no zombies, nothing that could distract the reader from the bubble of manic hope the father created for the two of them. It went straight to my heart and I don't let much things go there. Expect to hear about it again during award season, next fall.

RAILWAY ARCHITECTURE doesn't pack the intensity or the emergency of NIGHT HOLDS A SCYTHE, but it is beautiful, poetic and mythic in its own way. While the first thrives in simplicity, here the story is driven by complexity and structure and yet, it discusses the same theme: innocence. I believe this is what Wallwork does best, to explore simple, beautiful themes such as innocence, childhood and love. Whenever he tackles something more complicated, like in the story ANAL TWINE, where the metaphorical pertinence gets lost amidst the shock value. It's a funny story sure, but it doesn't draw a bigger picture the way Wallwork shows he can within the same short story collection and sometimes using shock value in itself, like for the story SKIN. Wallwork has the tendency of using shock and sexual imagery just for the sake of being shocking or funny and whenever he does that and loses the big picture, the story usually suffers.

In Amsterdam, the appendage that made you a freak and had previous lovers wince at the thought of it inside them, has the allure of the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal or Empire State Building: nobody would believe something so big existed unless you're photographed next to it.

As author/reviewer Caleb J. Ross pointed out, there is a duality to Craig Wallwork's fiction that fluctuate between bizarro fiction and magic realism. If QUINTESSENCE OF DUST pointed towards anything is that Wallwork's potential for magic realism is unlimited. He has the originality, the poetic vision and the prose to be a standout writer. I'm not familiar enough with bizarro to say if he stands out in that field, but I lost interest quickly in his more grotesque stories. Whenever he's in his best shape, think of Craig Wallwork as Chuck Palahniuk meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His fiction wields amazing power whenever he doesn't take the easy road (which he unfortunately sometimes does). QUINTESSENCE OF DUST is a small, cramped window into the strange, dreamlike world of Craig Wallwork. He is an author who walks to his own drum. I was sometimes very impressed, sometimes annoyed, but Wallwork got strong emotional reactions out of me, which I believe was the point of the exercise.

THREE STARS

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