Review: Balancing on the Edge of the World by Elizabeth Baines

Balancing Edge of World

Balancing on the Edge of the World
by Elizabeth Baines (2007)
Short Fiction, 108 pages
Salt Publishing

Review copy courtesy of the author

Advisory: Strong language, Sexual content
(Not too much or gratuitous)

 

Notice above I use the term “short fiction”, not short stories. Fourteen stories taking up 108 pages should be a clear indicator as to why: many of them are merely a few pages long. However don’t let the size of the work fool you. This is a book where the narrative proves that much can be conveyed with little.

Not that every story is perfect, or perfectly written. It doesn’t need to be, as in many cases I suspect the issues which gnawed at me were due to the author using a regional voice, one with which I am little familiar due to my nationality.

I’m not saying as an American I had a hard time with the content, far from it. The theme connecting these stories is universal. It is only the vernacular that at times challenged me. There will always be some subtleties that elude the reader as they have no understanding a particular culture or sub-culture. If an author is skilled enough, these detractions can be overcome, enlightening the reader rather than alienating them.

At times, I did feel like I was missing out on a few of those subtleties, but not many. Overall, my experience with this collection was positive.

The recurring theme is power. That which you have, which you want, and that which others wield over you. The sense of it as it crashes through a moment in time, sometimes crushing those caught beneath it, others times picking them up and carrying them along for a ride as that is really all they can do – hold on and hope for the best.

Primarily woman are the protagonists, but there are children too. Why? I think because of the perception that they are more susceptible and vulnerable. Not that men cannot be similarly affected, however these characters are more likely to tug at ones empathy, drawing the reader in deeper, and thus causing a stronger reaction to their story.

I cannot say this will be the case with every reader, just that it was with me.

One of the most poignant of the group is “Compass and Torch”. It is aptly named, for in it a father and son seek common ground, but find out how difficult it is to navigate through a current of emotions which should bring them together, yet hold them back.

But they don’t need a compass after all. They are adventurers…Compasses are things that boys and dads tend to have, but which, when they are alert and strong at heart, they can leave behind. It is no accident that they both left their compasses behind.

Another one of my favorites, wasn’t – at first. One of the unique aspects of this anthology is the varying styles the author uses. Sometimes straightforward narrative, at others prose-like, nearly poetic. “Daniel Smith Disappears Off the Face of the Earth” is one of those stories that didn’t take hold until I had finished it. I then re-read it for the full effect and was amazed how Baines handles  a moment, that moment, when a young man’s world changes forever:

Panic swells the darkness of the space beyond the tree…He says: Only fifteen. He is pleading: how suddenly he slides from denial of his youth to desperation for its refuge, how cravenly his soul is slipping in the dark.

This is a collection unlike any other I have ever read. Some stories are barely two pages, the longest at twenty. Some are straight narrative, others lyrical – like poetry. I cannot say I liked them all equally, but I can say enjoyed this anthology. I find this to be an excellent introduction to this author, and will keep an eye out for more of her work. I am giving this 4 stars out of 5.

JCa

 

 

E Baines

Elizabeth Baines is a writer of prose fiction and plays. Her collection of short stories Balancing on the Edge of the World was published in 2007, and a novel, Too Many Magpies, will become available in October 2009.
 
Elizabeth has won prizes for her stories and plays including a Giles Cooper Best Radio Play Award and received Sony radio nominations.

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nat @ book, line, and sinker

i enjoy this genre and your review is fair and encompassing. i love to see exposition and characterization pressed into action quickly because of the length of a short story–there’s no time to languidly develop characters and their conflicts.

as always, erudite and enjoyable review!

robotbooks

What difference do you define between “fiction” and “story”? I find it an interesting conjecture, but I’m not sure how you’re using these words to define, well, what you mean.

J.C. Montgomery

In terms of a short story versus short fiction? It is length, short fiction being much less in word count. Some of the stories in this book are only a few pages long. I hope this answers your question and I think I should edit this entry – perhaps to make it more clear? Thank you for the feedback!