7th Review of The Lizard

A website called Weird Canada has reviewed The Lizard and Other Stories (2009).

Here’s what Joshua Robinson had to say …

*

As curator of The Danforth Review, Toronto’s Michael Bryson contributes much more than merely thoughts on page. His short works in The Lizard and Other Stories hint at the subtle contradictions inextricably interwoven into the dual fabric of perception and interpretation; of love cast against the existential enmities of loneliness, power, and tragedy.

Love — as told through the experiences of characters running from home, searching for meaning, and struggling to regain a sense of direction in an increasingly hostile ethos — is that great binding force that exists both subjectively and objectively, residing in the fragile middle-ground where that nascent sense of fulfillment lingers right before the pin drops, and the bright and swirling grand illusion of complete happiness gives way to a loneliness born of a powerfully tragic misconstrual of what one truly needs to feel most alive.

This is a collection of short stories that speaks of the inner-battling between pride and compliance; of the ebb and flow of a constantly compromising world with others and within oneself. Where love, and indeed our sense of place, is hardwired and whittled by our reflections on those around us: of how we place ourselves next to them, of how we mentally superimpose our stories on the lives of those very others. Transcendence when grounding is needed; life, opaque and incommunicable, yet we persevere, and draw together the fragments of former selves to construct a new form, one that will exist to precede the next reconstitution; constantly changing, constantly emerging from the wakes that we create.

Wandering the Earth: A Selected Stories Sampler

Wandering the Earth: A Selected Stories Sampler (e-book), published today at Smashwords. ISBN 978-0-9866206-3-8

And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.

Table of contents:

  • Boys and Girls, Girls and Boys
  • Beginnings and Endings
  • Running with that Indian
  • Border Guard
  • Watching the Lions
  • Book of Job
  • Six Million, Million Miles
  • Yes, I Wanted to Say
  • Niagara
  • My Life In Television
  • Bonus Track: Hercules

Read these stories and more in:

6th Review of The Lizard

Included in Vol 10 Issue 2 of The Prairie Fire Review of Books.

Review by Bev Sandell Greenberg. Very nice. Very astute.

Click here for PDF of the review. Or read it below:

The Lizard and Other Stories
by Michael Bryson
Ottawa: Chaudiere Books , 2009, 117 pages, $18.00, ISBN 978-0-978 3428-3-8.

Reviewed by Bev Sandell Greenberg

Toronto writer Michael Bryson’s latest collection of sixteen short stories offers an intriguing look at contemporary urban relationships—how people meet, why they break up, and the redemptive power of love. Most of the stories in the collection have been previously published. In fact, “Sandwich Factory” was nominated for the Journey Prize and “Six Million Million Miles” was included in 05: Best Canadian Short Stories.

Bryson is well known in literary circles as the founder and editor of The Danforth Review, an online literary magazine published between 1999 and 2009. He has published two previous short story collections, Thirteen Shades of Black and White (1999) and Only a Lower Paradise (2000).

Some of the stories in this collection centre on friendship. One of the most poignant pieces, “Hercules,” tells about two construction workers, a young wayward man and a long-time employee who mentors him. Only after Hercules’s death does the young man begin to appreciate the extent of Hercules’s positive influence. In the story “Flight,” two men have been friends since high school, but one is always more popular with the girls. As the two friends reach adulthood, jealousy sets in, altering the nature of their relationship.

Each story crackles with intensity. One of Bryson’s talents is the ability to describe a setting in a few sentences. In “Flight,” he states, “The hotel was part of an American chain that linked metropolitan areas around the world like a global charm bracelet. The hotel had a round marble lobby ringed with red, white and blue curtains. In one corner, Coke competed with Pepsi . . .”

Interspersed within the collection are four brief vignettes about an unnamed boy and his parents. These stories offer a note of innocence in sharp contrast to the final three pieces with their post-9/11 settings.

Occasionally, Bryson adds a dollop of humour to his wry observations. In the title story, “The Lizard,” a young man is haunted by his memory of swallowing a salamander on a dare when he was six years old. Thereafter, thoughts of the lizard often come to mind—usually during the adult protagonist’s romantic moments.

Throughout the collection, Bryson schools us in the ambiguities and complexities of male/female relationships in the twenty-first century. It’s an unblinking commentary on the tug-of-war of influences on men and women trying to survive life in the big city.

Though the relationships sometimes falter, there are also stories presenting the opposite view. As a result, Bryson’s collection provides a satisfying, thought-provoking read about the search for love on the urban landscape.

Bev Sandell Greenberg is a Winnipeg writer and teacher.

4th Review of The Lizard

This review is now posted, corrected, below. First edition credited me with some superhuman feats. Ask me about it sometime.

Review from the Maple Tree Literary Supplement.

*

The Lizard and Other Stories
by Michael Bryson
Ottawa: Chaudiere Books, 2009
118 pp. $20.00

Michael Bryson’s stories have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies for over a decade. He is the author of two previous collections, Thirteen Shades of Black and White (Turnstone Press, 1999) and Only A Lower Paradise (Boheme Press, 2000). In the words of the book jacket, The Lizard and Other Stories “probes hearts in conflict”; “Love and the frailties of existence are the obsessions of this collection. The stories showcase absurdity, humour and tremendous sensitivity.” The stories in this collection certainly speak to the twin obsessions spelled out in this blurb. The collection ends with a trilogy of stores, “Hard Core Life,” “Flight,” and “Isn’t It Pretty to Think So” that speak to and explore different ways of grieving about the events of September 11th. Indeed, many of the stories in the collection seem haunted by this international tragedy. Bryson is at his best when he is most specific. Take this opening of the short story “Hit,” for example:

John put me up to it. I must have been sixteen or seventeen. Grade eleven or twelve. John[,] my best friend, the team’s leading scorer. I could make third line centre, he told me. I didn’t make it past the first cuts. This was no heartbreak; I was small, had no appetite for raised elbows and would never be able to dig the puck out of the corner quick enough for the coach. But John pleaded my case until the team said it would dress me for its exhibition games. On my third shift[,] I was flattened by an over-eager two-hundred pound fifteen-year-old. I remember lying on the ice, my insides crushed, a sharp pain pulsing in my guts as the team trainer skidded across the ice toward me. “You’ve got to learn to take a hit, son,” he said as [he] knelt beside me. Later[,] I managed to pick up an assist on one of John’s two goals. I had a bruise on my hip the next day the size of a watermelon. I told the coach I wouldn’t be back. (7)

With very few words, in short emphatic sentences, Bryson sets up some of the tensions in the often-strained friendship between the narrator and his friend John, one that reminds us of Dustan’s and Boy’s in Robertson Davies’ The Deptford Trilogy. Bryson’s attention to human relations also recalls the stories in Michael Redhill’s collection Fidelity, but what makes Bryson’s stories unique is his writing style. His minimalist approach is not for everyone, and it takes getting used to, yet his style contributes significantly to the facets of postmodern and urban environments to which his stories repeatedly turn.

It is difficult to identify with the many unattractive characters in The Lizard and Other Stories, though, in the context of postmodern writing, character identification is perhaps less important. The copy editing can benefit from a rereading. Bryson gives us a lot to think about: he is quite skilful in writing stories, and his writing reverberates with literary echoes. In sum, Bryson delivers a solid and ultimately promising collection.

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)