Book Review: ‘A Certain Kind of Freedom,’ edited by Beryl Belsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“My objective when choosing the pieces for the anthology was to ensure that they reflected not only literary merit but also the multicultural nature of the website [Writer’s Drawer], as well as universal themes with which we can all identify.” – Beryl Belsky, from the Preface
A Certain Kind of Freedom presents ten stories in Short Fiction, ten first-person essays in Stories from Life, eleven poems in Poetry, and three poems in East Asian Style Poetry. While the short stories comprise the most dynamic section of the book, the anthology as a whole successfully fulfills Belsky’s objectives in the preface.
The title story about two young people who go kayaking in a cove that may or may not be dangerous or cursed, superbly introduces feelings of dread and a finely wrought narrative tension that characterizes most of the stories in Short Fiction. Susan Rogers’ “A Certain Kind of Freedom” employs a technique favored by director Alfred Hitchcock: placing everyday people into an unusual and chilling situation.
Kate and Ryan, who are visiting the Mediterranean coast, are experienced kayakers. The day is beautiful and the seas are calm. Yet Kate is preoccupied with “pink sky in the morning, sailor’s forewarning,” World War II dogfights that occurred in the area, and the unknowns of deep water once they paddle outside the sheltering cove. Rogers builds the tension well, foreshadowing a harrowing conclusion that, while not unexpected, is both surprising and sad.
In “Abigail,” Elizabeth L. Abrey also places an everyday person in an usual situation. While exploring her new house, Ruby Jordan gets locked in the basement. Once she extricates herself, everything seems fine. But then it isn’t–just possibly, getting locked in the basement wasn’t an accident.
Especially poignant is Leandré Grobler’s “Cry of the Fish Eagle”about an elderly aboriginal couple living in a secluded valley far from civilization who discover they are being watched by outsiders whom they do not understand. The watchers are well-intended researchers. As the tension builds, the reader can only wait helplessly for the inevitable clash of cultures that will destroy everyone.
Fans of Beethoven will love Tyger Schonholzer’s “Immortal Beloved,” an exquisite fantasy that re-imagines the circumstances behind the master’s famous “Immortal Beloved” letter to an unknown woman. The letter was never mailed. The intended recipient was never identified by historians. Could Schonholzer’s version be true? The romantic amongst us will want to think so.
All of the stories succeed, though some better than others, because they are tightly written and build toward well-plotted and appropriately foreshadowed conclusions. The essays in Stories From Life are generally informal and, while they introduce interesting characters, themes and settings, have a slice of life quality about them that often lacks unity and direction.
Bryan Clark’s “The Smoke Bird,” about an aboriginal mystic, Carrie King’s “The Ticket,” about an expectant mother barred from boarding a ship, and D. K. Srivastava’s “The Decision That Changed Her Life” about a Hindu bride waiting for her arranged marriage to begin are standouts in this section.
The offerings in Poetry are generally free verse with several of the poems falling into the prose-formatted-into-broken lines category. However, the poets’ passions shine through in such words as these in Syed Asad Ali’s “I Have Been in Love Twice”: …with you and with the idea of you; and maybe the reality of love lingers in between both of these.
Paige Lederman’s, memorable poem called “Fear” shows how a ten year old felt when hurricane Sandy hit New York’s Rockaway Beach in 2012, Dev Pillai’s tautly written “Paradox” looks at a moment in the past that was “incomplete yet content,” and Jane Tarlo’s bittersweet “It” bring strength to this section.
The three poems by Leon Zeldis, Jane Tarlo and Yael Shalev in East Asian Style Poetry comprise the strong final section of A Certain Kind of Freedom. These works clearly demonstrate the style and tone expected in the form, perhaps most effectively in Zeldis’ “Seven Chinese Poems” that begin:
Before the leaves went wild wind lofted,
The sky darkened
And I sat down crying.
Belsky concludes the book’s preface with the hope that A Certain Kind of Freedom will become the first of a Writer’s Drawer Book Series. Belsky and her contributors have made a strong start with this collection. For authors of future books in the series, this volume sets the bar high; for readers, it offers enjoyable prose and poetry that deserve multiple readings to fully explore.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy “The Seeker,” a story about a mountain vision quest, a flood, a girl, a swamp, and a summer romance on the rocks.