3rd Review of The Lizard

The third review of The Lizard is on Spencer Gordon’s blog, and appears in Broken Pencil #47.

Here’s what Mr. Gordon had to say:

In The Lizard and Other Stories (Michael Bryson’s third trade paperback), the style is conversational and colloquial; his subjects usually plainspoken men and confused adolescents. While not exactly gritty or subversive, Bryson’s allegiances do seem rooted in the contemporary, urban, and working-class. Unsurprisingly, some of these stories first found homes in collections such as Matthew Firth’s Grunt & Groan, Nathaniel Moore’s Desire, Doom & Vice, and Zsolt Alapi’s Writing at the Edge. The abundant dialogue (loaded with realistic exchanges and banal asides), light descriptive passages, and frequent paragraph breaks means the book moves at a breakneck clip. When this is done well, as it often is, we forget we’re reading (participating in the artifice, so to speak) and slip under the spell of Bryson’s minimal narrative strategy. In Our Time) crop up throughout, detailing the coming-of-age of some unnamed boy. If they’re meant to be stand-alone, I’m not sure how effectively they illumine or redefine the stories they intersect, and if they’re supposed to be stages of a single piece, they fail at delivering a climactic pay-off, or even a memorable impression of character. Only a Lower Paradise, for example), would rocket this collection into must-have territory.

“The Adulterer” is the best story in this collection. It’s a single paragraph running only three pages, but damn – its structural adventurousness and unsettling emotional manipulations beat together in the memory like some sinister metronome. “The Book of Job” – a curiously entertaining mixture of Native American and Hebrew legends – shimmers with welcome strangeness, disrupting the familiar march of Bryson’s more conventional offerings. And the story “Flight – the second in a trio of 9/11 stories – is extremely effective in its fragmentation, depicting the spiritual and physical grasping of characters living on the crumbling precipice of history.

However, aside from a number of glowing moments, and the aforementioned gems, the majority of stories tend to bleed into one another, providing an insufficient quantity of memorable or resounding passages. At times, their narrators seem to have a hard time maintaining the right balance between superfluous and essential detail. Moreover, four vignettes (short, unnamed italicized sections – think Hemingway’s In Our Time) crop up throughout, detailing the coming-of-age of some unnamed boy. If they’re meant to be stand-alone, I’m not sure how effectively they illumine or redefine the stories they intersect, and if they’re supposed to be stages of a single piece, they fail at delivering a climactic pay-off, or even a memorable impression of character.

It must be said, though, that this may merely be a problem of editorial direction (and yes, I’m breaking a sacred reviewing rule in saying so). Bryson is a careful and talented writer, and when he gets rolling, the results can be magical. Losing a few of the flabby stories, as well as the vignettes, and including a few more adventurous pieces (such as can be found in his Only a Lower Paradise, for example), would rocket this collection into must-have territory. (Spencer Gordon)

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