by Christopher Linforth, $17.95 (Lamar University Press)
Leaving is the common element that unites the stories in Christopher Linforth’s debut collection When You Find Us We Will Be Gone. In every one of his short stories, Linforth’s characters are in the process of leaving or are contemplating moving on – whether they are finishing a job, ending a relationship or transitioning to another country.
This theme provides a framework for tales set in locations as diverse as Fukushima, Japan, after the nuclear accident, post-Communist Croatia, China, New York City and a Nazi concentration camp. Linforth is a skillful writer who uses setting as an integral part of his stories. The stories that unfold are dependent on where they take place, evoking each location with rich detail. For example, in “Cowboys of Fukushima,” the nuclear disaster allows him to write the unlikely story of three American cowboys hired to round up radioactive cows. Closer to home, the boardwalk of 1950s Coney Island acts as another character in “Flyer,” a story in which a young boy lures a would-be molester to drown in the sea.
In “Homeland,” the tensions in a long-distance relationship are explored in a story that perfectly pairs setting with the theme of leaving. The narrator’s job requires him to visit the city of Zagreb every few months — and so we have a chance to learn about his affair with Saskia, which continues only when he visits. Their relationship exists within the context of the setting, because Saskia refuses to leave Croatia.
Perhaps most compelling among the stories is “The Persistence of Vision.” A writer, Jonathon Lumen, slowly withdraws from his wife and daughter while at the same time losing his sense of self. The arrival of a strange letter about a reading of Lumen’s first novel at a local bookstore is the catalyst for an identity crisis of sorts. The letter confuses the novel’s main character, Mr. Phot, with the writer himself. As Lumen attempts to make sense of the mix up, he withdraws more and more from his family. A one-night stand with a young woman he meets at the bookstore where the reading is to take place cements the break from life as it was before the arrival of the letter. This story – and the last in the collection, “Here Is The Light” – are related. Both explore the fragility of identity and the illumination the characters seek – whether it is the aptly name Jonathon Lumen or Pym Dark
If there is a criticism of Linforth’s writing, it might be his frequent use of a first-person narrator. Slightly more than half – seven of the collection’s 12 stories – are told in the first person. Yet the voice of the narrator in all of these stories is too often the same – whether it’s the voice of one of the cowboys of Fukushima, the 9-year-old boy in “Flyer,” or the home insurance salesman in “Moonbow.” I longed for a sense of a more distinct narrator in each of these stories.
Still, Linforth has given us a rich array of plots, characters and settings in his first collection, and one that’s worth reading for short story lovers.
Vicki Mayk has been a journalist, magazine editor and public relations person for 35 years. Her feature articles and essays have appeared in regional and national magazines, newspapers, and trade publications, including Hippocampus and East Meets West Writers Journal.