by Edward Belfar
SFA Press, Oct. 2012
Paperback, 218 pages
Residing inside the pages of Edward Belfar’s short story collection are a series of wanderers who find themselves far from home both geographically and emotionally. Some of them travel halfway across the world while others are literally trapped within themselves, but all of them are searching for a way back into the feeling of home.
The stories in this collection take place in a variety of locations ranging from Kenya to a psychiatric ward to Italy to Yankee Stadium, and they examine issues of identity, responsibility to family, sexual insecurity, and global economics.
Many of the stories take place in Kenya. In “Departure,” a Kenyan expat to America visiting her home country takes an overnight train from Nairobi to Mombassa, expecting the comfortable journey she had experienced 30 years earlier. However, instead of bone china, crystal, and waiters in starched white jackets, she finds grimy, ripped seat covers and hole-in-the-floor toilets. She has plenty of time to reflect upon the differences between the Kenya of her childhood memories and the reality of present-day Kenya during the train’s frequent break-downs. Neither a local and nor a tourist, she feels a sense of displacement that is shared by many of the other characters in this book.
My favorite piece was “A View of the Fireworks,” a story about a depressive patient on a psychiatric ward following the death of his eating disordered daughter and the resulting split from his wife. Dreading the visits of his ex-wife, lover, and university colleagues, he can only abide the company of his fellow patients. He is particularly fond of a 13-year-old anorexic girl who reminds him of his daughter. I could not get enough of this story! It takes place during the span of one day, but there were enough allusions to Thomas’s past to make me crave more. There is a lot of backstory hiding under the surface, and I would love to see this story expanded into a novel.
Other stories involve a honeymoon in Rome gone awry when the husband spends $200 on champagne for a prostitute, the same man paralyzed after a drunk driving accident ten years later, a Kenyan airport security officer who must make a moral call, and a middle-aged man who meets his former law professor, now old, frail, and disoriented, in a bar late one night.
I really enjoyed this story collection. Although the stories range in length from 10 to 22 pages, and most of them take place in the span of a few days, Belfar does a fantastic job of fleshing out his characters and their backgrounds. Without using too many words, he is able to convey complicated relationships and emotions. He delves into his characters’ pasts — their secrets, longings, and injuries — while still maintaining forward momentum in a fairly compact medium.
I usually read short story collections in sips, reading a few stories here and there but I gulped this one down. Belfar’s language isn’t flowery or highly stylistic, but it has a gravity that pulled me deep into the lives of the characters he created and in some cases left me wanting more. Some characters were more sympathetic than others, but they felt realistic given their backgrounds.
— WANDERERS GIVEAWAY —
The publishers of this book have kindly offered a copy of Wanderers to give away. I’m using Rafflecopter to select the winner, and the giveaway will be open until 12 p.m. EST January 30. I will contact the winner later that day. Please note that this giveaway is only open to US/Canadian residents. Click here to enter!
I received a complimentary copy from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.