By Steven Schwartz
Autumn House Press, $17.95, 220 pages
Steven Schwartz has an undeniable ear for the rhythms of language and the inner aching of the human heart in his newest short story collection Little Raw Souls. In “Absolute Zero,” for example, Connor faces a moment of rare human complexity when the father of his unsuccessful one-night stand asks if Connor knows why she would set fire to the family home: “Was there anything Jody said or mentioned at all that might have led to this? We want to help her. We’re on her side…” Connor says nothing, and we know that all is frozen in that single moment: Connor’s integrity, his masculinity, his longing for relationship, his guilt, and his angst about his mother’s illness.
“We stood there in the dark with the stars pulsing above and not an artificial light in sight. I had mixed feelings about running electricity over here and plundering the darkness. Peck’s house was on the other side of the ridge and hidden from view. You could hear coyotes howling, and I’d seen the remnants of a mountain lion’s kill, and what did it matter if another deer died on the property one way or another?”
Unfortunately, Schwartz allows the pedestrian details of a variety of sexual encounters to consume nearly every story in the collection. (If you have curious children in the home, this is not a book you want on your shelf.) The unfortunate part is that Schwartz writes well and seems to understand the loneliness of the human psyche, elements that in themselves should carry the impact of each story. But when the titillation of near-pornographic sex is introduced, no matter how minimal its place in the story, all else is overshadowed, and whatever intelligent moments or profound connections Schwartz may have found are lost in a swirl of sweat and genitalia.
Reviewed by Jennie A. Harrop
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