Peter Crowther,
Songs of Leaving
(Subterranean, 2004)

It's clear from the first story in his new short-story collection, Songs of Leaving, that Peter Crowther is an old hat at the writing game. His style is hard to pinpoint, as he shifts viewpoints, voice and language with the skills of an old-school thespian, playing Huck Finn on one night and Macbeth the next. But throughout this motley collection, he maintains a lyrical style reminiscent of Ray Bradbury and the Romantic poets.

In his story notes, Crowther acknowledges Bradbury's great influence on him several times, and this shows in more than his word choice. Like Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin and Margaret Atwood, Crowther focuses on the effects of extraordinary events on ordinary people. The results are limned with pathos, poignancy and sometimes fright.

All the stories are of high caliber; it's difficult to pick one or two as the best. For sheer emotional impact, "Songs of Leaving," "Some Burial Place, Vast and Dry" and "Halfway House" stand out. Each deals tenderly with death and loss in a Bradburian vein. "Heroes and Villains" also examines death, but through the unique lense of a comic book super-villain brought into the living world. Aliens abound throughout many of the stories. In some, like "Elmer" and "The Invasion," their presence is benign or beneficial; in most, aliens menace humanity with varying degrees of cruelty.

Crowther puts his suspense skills to good use in this book. He ratchets up the tension like a pro, creating unease in "The Killing of Davis-Davis," fear in "Surface Tension" and outright heart-pounding terror in "Late Night Pick-Up."

The only drawback to the stories is, as he acknowledges in his notes, most of them were written for themed anthologies. As is often the case with anthology fiction, there is a slightly forced feeling that pervades this collection. But if Songs of Leaving is a represenative sample of what Peter Crowther has to offer, then I can't wait to see what his unfettered imagination will bring. Whatever he comes up with, it's sure to be intelligent, graceful and capable of frightening and moving people at the same time.

- Rambles
written by Tracie Vida
published 26 June 2004

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