Wednesday, July 18, 2007

THE SPECIES CROWN by Curtis Smith

In June of this year, Press 53 released Curtis Smith's most recent short story collection titled The Species Crown. Smith is also the author of the novel An Unadorned Life and two previous short story collections, Placing Ourselves Among the Living and In the Jukebox Light. This was my first chance to read a book of his, but it will not be the last one I read. I so enjoyed this collection.

Some of the stories in The Species Crown are lighthearted, always a nice touch in short story collections, which can tend to be a bit on the dark side. One of my favorite stories was "My Totally Awesome Funeral" first published in Hobart. Although written in the first person, there's a wonderful twist of an implied directive, the storyteller directing the reader to celebrate his passing--when the time comes. Here's a sample: "Drink another just because you can. After my wife and son have gone to bed, let the hardcore partiers hijack me for one last ride--shotgun!--and no matter the season, roll down the window and let the wind lash my hair." It manages to be a raucous celebration of death that makes the reader smile. How often can you say that about a short story?

Another story I especially liked was "The Real, True-Life Story of Godzilla!." It's a third-person tale of Billy Glenn, a washed up semi-pro basketball player who gets conscripted to join a Team America style group that will play throughout Japan. When that ship runs aground, Billy--because of his height--finds work playing Godzilla in grade B films. He finds love, then loses it unexpectedly and ends up spending his days searching through the eyeholes of his Godzilla costume, looking for lost love.

My very favorite story--I'm certain of it--was "Vacation in Ten Parts." The descriptions put me right smack in the middle of a floundering marriage desperately attempting to find its footing in the shifting sands of the Caribbean. The supporting cast of characters all ring true as fellow desperados on a flight to or from somewhere--no one is quite certain. The second-person lyricism throws it all in high relief: "Study your wife through the fine scrim of mosquito netting. Peaceful, her slumber, her legs tangled in crisp, white sheets, the cotton ripe with the ocean's briny scent."

This collection is so rich and varied, so skilled in the many different voices, locales, and points-of-view, that I was sad when I reached the end--always the sign of a great read.