I love short stories. That may be obvious given that I run a magazine dedicated to short fiction, but it’s worth mentioning as a lead-in to this week’s review. In fact, the only thing I like better than a good short story is a good collection of them.
Christopher Irvin’s Safe Inside the Violence is a great collection. The book does what any good short fiction collection ought to do: It captures and carries a tone throughout. In this case, that tone is a sense of darkness and brooding. Not midnight, pitch-black darkness, but more of a grey skies for weeks and weeks kind of darkness (the kind we’re all familiar with here in Seattle where Crime Syndicate is based).
Safe Inside the Violence features thirteen stories that each ring true with their own sense of emotional urgency, loss, and conviction. The stories feature battered men and women still trying to make a go of things, often with unclear or unfavorable results, but occasionally with satisfactory or even satisfying success.
Various stories in the collection appeared in magazines such as Needle: A Magazine of Noir (“Union Man”), Noir Nation (“Bringing in the Dead”), Flash Fiction Offensive (“Vacation Package”), Beat to a Pulp (“Beyond the Sea”), Plots With Guns (“Napoleon of the North End”), All Due Respect (“Blind Spot” [full disclosure: My own story “Tote the Note” was in the same issue]), Crime Factory (“Bitter Work”), The Winter Animals Anthology (“Nor’easter”), and Noir Carnival (“The Things We Leave Behind”), as well as a few other unpublished works.
There’s a raw humanity to these stories, a sense in each that important things are happening, even if at times the person they’re happening to can’t quite seem to put a finger on them. Often raw, at times emotional, and at times violent, each story brings with it a sense of loss and regret, tinged with a sense that things could not possibly have gone any other way.
Throughout, Irvin provides his characters with dignity and humanity. His narrative eye may be unflinching, but it’s obvious on the page that he cares. These are everyday people caught dead-center in life’s daily struggle, doing what has to be done, and coming out both changed at the end, and also with a sense that some things never have and never will change.
The whole collection is as heartfelt as it is moving, and I don’t often read collections that carry tone the way this one does. It’s a fine work from an excellent writer, and the type of book that makes me wonder why people aren’t obsessed with short stories.