Chris Kemp, Byron Merritt
& Ken Jones, editors,
Monterey Shorts 2: More on the Line
(FWOMP, 2005)

That California is both a physically real locale and a state of mind is a popular notion. The anthology of stories in Monterey Shorts 2: More on the Line plays on this concept by depicting Monterey, California, and the surrounding coastal region as a backdrop for dramas both large and small.

The authors featured in this collection -- members of a group called the Fiction Writers of the Monterey Peninsula -- have clearly been inspired by the rich history and geographic beauty of their region. Their stories range from historical fiction to realistic dramas to genre tales featuring fairies, vampires and time travelers. In what must be a sign of the group's closeness, a few of the stories contain shared worlds in which the main characters of one story become minor characters in another.

Readers who pick up this collection might be expecting it to convey a strong sense of place on a cinematic scale. However, the effect is oftentimes more akin to television, with plots that seem as flat and easily contained as ones created for such shows as Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. In such writing, the effects of place upon the characters never seem very profound, merely a space for characters to get from one place to another as their dilemmas unfold.

One of the best stories is "Divine" by Lele Dahle. It's a poetic reverie from the point of view of Moran, a man with the gift of dowsing, or using a rod to find water. It's a gift that's nurtured under the tutelage of a Cajun transplant named Corbusier. The story revolves around Moran's fascination and eventual marriage to Corbusier's daughter Chantal, a beautiful woman with a mysterious double life. A compelling parallel arises between Moran's vocation and his need to understand his wife: "He has surrendered to a diviner's reality ... the rod begins to vibrate, and then it dips full down; a rich vein of water has been identified deep within earth."

This is the kind of metaphoric language that I seek in good literature. It deepens the reading experience and provides insight about both characters and place. In this anthology, I could divine only limited pockets of such insight.

Also check out Monterey Shorts, edited by Walter Gourlay, Chris Kemp and Frances Rossi, and reviewed in 2003 by Sarah Meador.

by Karen Trimbath
12 August 2006

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