Book Review: The Late Season

The Late Season, by Stephen Hines, is a collection of twelve short stories that ooze atmosphere and an air of dislocation whilst also being intimate and revealing. They explore the isolation and detachment of everyday life across contemporary North America. There is an earthy reality to the settings and characters that is in contrast to the shiny veneers presented on TV. The depth of the storytelling is impressive, especially given the succinctness of each tale.

The book opens with the eponymous the late season in which a salesman has outstayed his welcome at a remote motel. He does little with his days other than swim in the ice-encrusted pool and quietly drink from a flask, allowing time to pass him by. The couple in charge of the accommodation wish to close up for the winter but are reluctant to face the potential unpleasantness of evicting their quiet guest. Their young daughter regards the salesman, and his effect on her parents, with curiosity and fear.

honeymoon introduces a couple and their daughter who have suffered a series of family bereavements. On vacation the wife takes her daughter out on a boat and fails to return. As friends and neighbours help to search for them, the husband stands apart playing out possible future scenarios in his head. His mistake is in subsequently sharing these inner meanderings; some thoughts are best left unsaid.

Inner monologues from several of the characters reveal how socially unacceptable the workings of the mind can at times be. They also enable the reader to empathise with those society avoids engaging with due to their inability to fit within acceptable bounds of normalcy.

in early February¬†tells of the death of a young boy’s mother who had been severely overweight. Adult attempts at offering support and comfort are misunderstood causing the child further consternation. The boy hears what is being said but misconstrues intention. It is a reminder that children and grown ups speak the same words but interpret differently.

the book cellar is set in a downtown bookshop where a young employee is struggling to appear as casually confident as he wishes in order to appear attractive to his boss. She is kind but more tolerant than interested in his attentions. His unrequited love, which he continues to feed with her every small gesture, threatens to bring down the carefully constructed social acceptability of his day to day existence.

Death, poverty and social dislocation are pivotal in many of the tales yet this is not a dour collection. The characters are confronting conventional issues and moving forwards, not necessarily to anything better but to the next stage in their lives. This movement offers the prospect of change even if it is not yet realised. The ordinary can feel extraordinary to the individual dealing with their personal concerns.

An impressive debut that introduces an author bringing to life people overlooked and less than ideal. The weak-willed and vulnerable are portrayed with sympathy and perceptiveness. This is a recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tangerine Press.


Book Review: The Mountain Can Wait


The Mountain Can Wait, by Sarah Leipciger, is a haunting tale of misjudgement, disconnection and the scars that run deep within families. Set largely in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada, the story centres around Tom, a widower, whose wife walked out on him when their youngest child was just a few months old. Tom is a practical, reticent man. He has raised his children in the environment which he loves, teaching them the practical skills that have served him well. He struggles to give them the emotional support that they desire.

The story opens with a hit and run on a lonely mountain road. Tom’s son Curtis, high on drugs, hits a young girl as she walks home from a party which they both attended. He leaves her in a ditch, thus changing the course of his life.

Tom works away from home for months at a time managing his tree planting business which aims to restore the damage caused by the logging companies. He harbours a dream of a home high up in the mountains where he may hunt and live at peace with his surroundings. When Curtis turns to him during a visit to town Tom does not understand his son’s need. It is only when the police arrive that he realises the seriousness of what has happened to his eldest child.

Tom has made his own mistakes. The spiteful actions of an employee tarnish the reputation of his business and fracture his relationship with his girlfriend. With his carefully laid plans falling apart he comes to understand what he must do for his family.

“His children? Like letting his heart and lungs go walking off without him.”

Parents serve their children’s sentences alongside them.

The writing has a stark, lonely quality that belies the beauty normally associated with this part of the world. There is nothing idyllic about these people or their surroundings.

The pathos of the story is countered by the avoidable foolishness of the protagonists actions. It could be argued that they deserved what they got, yet the harshness of such a judgement is¬†highlighted by the empathy that the reader must feel when presented with the history and loneliness of each character’s situation.

A raw tale of the mistakes people make and the hurt that can be caused by misunderstanding those we love. If good writing causes strong feels then this novel, the author’s debut, is impressive indeed.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tinder Press.