Reviewer Dean Cowan:Dean is a freelance Business Consultant, specializing in training and development in more than one sector. He also works as a private writing tutor for youngsters struggling with essays and exams at school. He is married and lives in Manchester UK with his wife of 30 years and has a son, a daughter and one grandson. His particular interests include, education, writing, social sciences and politics.A struggling blogger, he has many on-line at the moment but due to a low boredom threshold losses patience with the technology.Prefers Facebook and Twitter because of the lack of effort needed.
Author: Mitchell Waldman
Publisher: Wind Publications
Author: Mitchell Waldman
Publisher: Wind Publications
For those of you who enjoy olfactory metaphors, these beautifully crafted stories in Mitchell Waldman's collection “Petty Offences and Crimes of the Heart” can be described as “bitter sweet”. Each protagonist has a scar of some kind; an emotional wound which dictates their actions and the stories revolve around characters seeking to resolve these issues.
Some reach a level of greater wisdom and closure such as the Jewish narrator in the first story “ The Nazi Nextdoor” who is traumatized by his seemingly likeable neighbour's revelation that he is the son a Nazi collaborator from occupied Holland.
Neither men are direct victims or perpetrators of Nazi atrocities but within the story we learn how together they resolve the terrible effects of historical events beyond their control . Before we arrive there however the narrator takes us through the catalogue of petty harassment he inflicts on his neighbour such as defacing his lawn or leaving offensive objects on his doorstep in the dead of night. Until one evening he is confronted by his neighbour who clearly is not a Nazi and they arrive movingly written mutual understanding and even friendship.
This is a consistent theme throughout the book. Some of the stories are treated with similar pathos and “sweetness” such as the elegant second story “ Fortunate Son”where a divorced mother comes to terms firstly with her oldest son enlisting in the army to fight in Afghanistan and then with the news of him going “missing”. The back drop for this story is the “War on Terror” post 9/11, and the effects this has on the lives of “ordinary” people of small town America. The outcome is inevitable but we become engrossed in the life enhancing process the woman goes through in order to accept what has happened to her beloved son.
In other stories the characters do not enjoy the mixed blessings of “closure”, and some border on the macabre such “ Catching Up with Cartucci” and “Missing Pieces”. The first of these is written in the form of two person dialogue very much like a play or film script. Cartucci of the title is a foul mouthed thug and small time criminal being psychology assessed by a nameless psychiatrist, who seems to know of a humiliating assault Cartucci inflicted several years before on a Jewish youngster called Fishbein during a party. Cartucci had thrown him down the stairs and whilst not injuring him seriously he fails to understand the direction his interrogator is taking him in trying to examine his motivations. Anti-semitism is a re-occurring theme in this book and one senses this is a wound that Waldman seeks to resolve in his writing. In this instance one with almost Gothic implications. “Missing Pieces” enters further into the world of horror and is an example of Waldman's versatility as a writer. Once again we enter the world of petty criminals( explored too in”My Life of Crime”). This time the protagonist has issues to resolve in the form of missing body parts. His own!
Waking up one morning to find his left hand missing but still “there” in the sense that he can feel and use it, he covers up the mysterious disappearance by wearing a single glove. With obvious allusions to “The Invisible Man” by H.G. Welles, the character's behaviour becomes more bizarre and out of control resulting in the raping of his girlfriend and his running naked through the streets after seeing that one of his feet has also disappeared and being picked up by the police as a lunatic. The main themes however were his own unease about his criminal life and his inability to go beyond the physical with his girlfriend who wanted something more.
The lack of awareness and self-knowledge in both of these protagonists have disastrous affects on Waldman's characters who are too stuck within their patterns of living to move forward and therefore unable to resolve positively their difficulties with living. But resolution there is! Not as means of going forward but in disintegration and possibly death. The lesson it seems from these stories is that you can use your life's experiences even when circumstances are beyond your control such as war or poverty and turn them around to move on and make choices or be a victim of your circumstances and allow them to control you. Either way there is a cause and a consequence of any action or choice.
Each of these stories can be read as self-contained compositions but I would recommend you read them in sequence to experience the themes to unfold as most satisfyingly do.