by Timmy Waldron
Grasping at little bits of happiness wherever they can be found, the characters in Timmy Waldron’s short stories inhabit the space between hope and hopelessness. World Takes is a satisfying, slim collection of tales that are familiar, yet also windows into an unknown universe.
Perhaps Waldron’s greatest strengths are his first sentences. Writing teachers and advice articles always talk about that “hook” one needs to draw in the reader. The hook should not be gimmicky, of course, but enough to make the reader not just want to continue, but feel required to do so. Even in the stories I did not like as much, I couldn’t argue with the quality of their first words:
How many times did you trip and fall on that same piece of uneven sidewalk before you learned to walk on the other side of the street?
And when I wake up, I don’t feel the doom.
There is a silent unmoving pile of bodies that fills the living room.
The stories are amusing in a subtle way — more dark humor than anything. In “Sinjin’s Crossing,” an elderly George Washington impersonator loses his job and takes it upon himself to enact farcical revenge on the man who ousted him. In “City Limits,” college kids stumble through dating one another, all while sleeping with other people in their group on the side, all of it one poorly kept secret.
Martha touches a button on my shirt. That’s all it takes, fiddling with a shirt button and I will do whatever she wants for the rest of the day.
Each character wants to be appreciated, in however small an amount, despite knowing that most of the time they do not deserve it. It’s a nice take on the idea that everyone is screwed up in their own special way, but that their faults do not necessarily equal a bad person.
I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately, mainly because I want to get better at writing them. Since I spent several years working on the same 103,000-word book, my head has been in “long form.” Apart from a few one-offs, I haven’t concentrated on the small ideas. I’ve been using short stories as study material — seeing how the authors switch voices from piece to piece. Some are better at it than others, of course. To make a recent comparison, Jackie Corley’s characters in The Suburban Swindle were less distinct from one another, but I think that had more to do with them coming from the same hard environment. In World Takes, Timmy Waldron moves from different points-of-view a bit more effortlessly:
Two weeks went by in a gray and black blue of extended family, priests, and total strangers. Tin trays of food occupied every possible bit of counter space in the kitchen. It would be impossible for Zoe to go through the rest of her life without smelling deli meats or baked Ziti and not think about death.
(“A Song For Orphans”)
Everything just totally sucks, and I can’t stop reading The Catcher in the Rye. To tell the truth, I’m not really reading the book. I only read certain parts. But I do like carrying it around with me. It gives me some kind of arty sensitive look. It was banned from school. Plus, it helps with boner camouflage.
(“The Gary Game”)
Some of the shorter strories like “Amanda” and “Coda,” I had to read more than once — the abbreviated, semi-vague tone didn’t lend itself to immediate absorption. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with having to go back and read something again, but I preferred the more straightforward stories. Still, I’m glad I read it and I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a different voice in short fiction.
Full disclosure: This book was sent to me along with two others for review purposes from Word Riot Press. I thank them for dedicating a small marketing write-off to my site, and I will continue to be fair in my reviews.
This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. The challenge ends October 31, 2010.