The Gimmick by Vern Smith

Reviewed by New Pop Lit

The Gimmick Vern Smith

“I like this gimmick. The gimmick’s good.”

“Cops are smarter than you think. Get in, get out. That’s what dad always says, and he never got pinched once.”

-from “The Gimmick”

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THE GIMMICK— novelettes, stories, and sketches by Canadian-born writer Vern Smith— starts slowly. The first story is about two men in a diner, the second about two men in a park. Why open with them? It might be the author’s way of easing the reader into his style of writing. Or he might be misdirecting– sandbagging– setting up the stories to follow.

Third in the collection is the title piece: “The Gimmick.” Top-level detective fiction with a noir feel. Think Walter Mosely. Two police detectives pursue a scam-artist couple who’ve robbed bank customers at ATM machines– including a detective. The robbed detective is eager to get them back.

The characters are fully drawn and completely absorbing. The plot, unpredictable right to the end.

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Meanwhile, you’re still walking.

The tie is strangling you.

You feel the extra starch they put in your shirt, always too much starch.

Sweat is dripping off your brow.

You are the oldest young man on earth.

-from “You Need Something to Slow You Down”

***

Most of the stories which follow are Kafkaesque. Their protagonists seem to be hanging in the air, upside down, at some shitty job or in some absurd life from which there’s no escape. They stumble through this universe drugged, puzzled, or numb, waiting for their next misstep.

But the best story in the collection, “The Great Salmon Hunt,” is a simple adventure story set aboard a fishing boat chartered by two brothers who hope to win a big salmon fishing contest. The tale contains its own version of absurdities via the personalities of the two brothers– resulting in comedy combined with high excitement. Hemingway would love it. 

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More discord than harmony, it was music without a message, music without words, music that related to the concept of nothingness.

-from “Natalia Cauzillo’s Last Ride Out”

***

The last short tale, “Natalia Cauzillo’s Last Ride Out,” is an apt coda to the collection– a culmination of themes as a sharply drawn young woman deals with her own discontent within another of the insane systems of now. 

Kafka meets Sherwood Anderson: the nonstop parade of quirky characters, like Natalia, are the strong point of Smith’s writing. Linkages in his created world– which appears uncomfortably similar to our own.
***

The Gimmick is available from Run Amok Books, at Barnes and Noble, at Kobo, and other outlets.
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Vern author photo

(Photo of Vern Smith.)

Go-Go Day by Elizabeth Sims

Reviewed by New Pop Lit

go go day

Regina knew perfectly well what Barb and everybody else thought of her. She was a Seybold. Her brothers and sisters, all way older, were gone from the house except Earl, the third oldest, who had been and come back from Afghanistan and was having a hard time getting interested in working. The Seybolds lived in the shabbiest double-wide in Dustin Point, Michigan. You could almost smell the cigarette smoke and dirty feet from the street.
****

ANYONE assessing America’s best short story writers needs to include Elizabeth Sims in their survey.

GO-GO DAY presents four stories– only four, but every one, in different ways, is terrific. They’re sustained by hidden wit and a large underpinning of humanity.

The four tales:

“Dixon Amiss”:  Two one-armed men show up at a man’s door one Saturday morning, ostensibly to look at an old-fashioned printing press, bringing with them much tension.

“The Cashmere Club”:  Two high school girls discuss shoplifting a cashmere sweater in order for one of them to join an exclusive school club.

The best story in the collection,  “The Cashmere Club” is also one of the best stories you’ll read this year, or any year. Like the other three tales, the narrative keeps the reader off balance at the same time it achieves– beyond the complications of plot– surprising understanding and depth. Ultimately, a sense of context about the dilemmas of time and life

“West Forkton Days”:  A young man with expansive dreams arrives back in his Indiana home town from Los Angeles for the funeral of his father.

Hale knew that hardly anybody who wanted to succeed in the film business actually did. Everybody he met in LA told him over and over how hard it was to make it, what a bastard of a market it was to crack. And yet everybody was trying like a maniac to be the one.

This story could be called wise but it’s also hilarious. Hale Hobson is all of us– a striver, a dreamer, but a little bit lazy and more than a bit hapless

“Go-Go Day”:  The title story is about an elderly home owner asked by her city to clean up the swimming pool in her yard, which hasn’t been touched in years. Memories and complications ensue. Catch the double meaning of the phrase “We’re Going Places!” evident at the end

These are four excellent stories which demonstrate that the short story can be readable and engaging, yet also contain wisdom and convey meaning about what it’s like to be a human being in this crazy world. Which is what literature is really about.
*******

Find out how to read Go-Go Day here.

E Sims PS head shot BW

(Photo of Elizabeth Sims.)

1987 and Other Stories by Vladimir Kozlov

Reviewed by New Pop Lit

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Igor died at the end of the ninth grade in May. He was drinking wine on the bank of the river, then he went swimming and drowned.

Ten tough stories from Russian author Vladimir Kozlov which are distinctly unromantic. Most are set during perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union, examining the lives of those coming of age in that system. Incidents include a man picking up a woman on a bus, a boy falling off a roof, punks celebrating Hitler’s birthday; protests and police; classrooms, liaisons, rebellions, fights– a lot of them– and unemotional, often awkward dates. To say this is a world without illusion is an understatement. There are enough glimpses of now to believe things in Russia since then have not greatly changed.

Lenka’s father was an alcoholic and used to be a math teacher. People said he sobered up and fell off the wagon a bunch of times, and that he was fired from his regular job because of it. Now he was working as the school’s security guard at night.

But he also used to be a poet, and ten years ago or maybe longer, his poetry always used to get published in the city newspaper. Lenka hated her parents and they hated her.

The two best stories in the collection are the title story, “1987”– about the arrival of punk music and punk attitudes into a Soviet town– and “Olya.”

I walked on further to Victory Square. I went into the Dawn Bookstore, in the five-story building next to the trolley bus stop. Olya was sitting behind the counter, reading a book wrapped in a newspaper dust jacket. She looked up at me and said, “Hi.”

“Hi,” I answered. “You work here?”

“Looks like it, doesn’t it?” she said.

“Olya” is a pessimistic tale about a young woman with much promise, then with no promise. An analogy to the society. The character is never described, but we can see her, the expression on her face, based on her words and her life. Fallen potential– the story opens with the narrator thinking he glimpsed her twenty-five years later, but he isn’t sure.

The theme of these stories is the absence of dreams– the impossibility of dreams.

“Worker’s is a neighborhood for lame-o proletarians and peasants. The worst part is, the teachers that work at that school get to be the same way after a while. I know they all used to talk about me. But I don’t give a shit.”

Another very good story is “The Major,” which we’re privileged to present as our current fiction feature, for the first time anywhere in English, as translated by Andrea Gregovich.
****

After I read the stories, I went with my contributing editor KMC to a small diner in a depressed community downriver of Detroit. Three high school students, two boys and a girl, lounged in one of the booths. Tough kids. I realized that Kozlov’s stories reminded me of downriver Detroit. The same sense of being trapped in a box; same gray attitude and acceptance of life.

Vladimir Kozlov’s stories are unflinchingly real.
****

Right now you can purchase this collection as an e-book for only five dollars, at Fiction Advocate, here. Buy it and keep up with the authentic literary world.

Vladimir-Kozlov

(Photo of Vladimir Kozlov.)