Authors Turning To Face The Worst

Apr 26, 2023 at 4:34 pm
Silas House
Silas House Photo provided by House

A Kentucky novelist and a Louisville poet engage in acts of will, exposing vulnerability in memorable ways while subverting some fan expectations. For W. Loran Smith, a change in his nom de plume; for Silas House, a turn toward dystopian fiction.

click to enlarge Billy Lee, Author
Billy Lee, Author

(The Last Confessionalist by Billy Lee; Cheek Press, 42 pgs., $18)

Bill Smith no longer runs a local restaurant—he’s now plenty busy fighting against cancer. He’s also gotten a micropress to devote energy and resources to give his new collection deserved respect. Getting this one into your hands might be a bit difficult; for sure it’s available on Etsy.

Dragging out his own past — and not putting a gauzy sugarcoating on his youthful mistreatment inside the foster/adoption system — represent just a couple of the courageous acts set to verse here. He considers wasted time as a kind of universal punchline. When focusing on his present, there’s a paradoxical motif: the modest home he and his singer wife have built enwraps their family cozily—but he can align this with being closed-in during MRI scans, or imagining the grave.

It’s difficult to say whether his diagnosis might contribute to a more-wizened combination of regret and appreciation:

“Now that I can see right through the papery husks/of all the buried bulbs in my yard.

The pink, blue, yellow, purple summer dreams/at the center of my life.

All these things I used to be too busy for.

Too frightened for.

Too angry for. Too lazy, too pissy drunk,

too high, too selfish, and too vain, for sure.”

The occasional shades of personal triumph in these two dozen poems have a realistic strength, event as they’re seem written with resignation—and coated in dark bemusement. “The Truth of the Matter,” for example—in an ebb-and-flow rhythm that betrays the life-stage when it was written, annoying mundanities shift into treasures of days that are now more measured. But the immediately following piece is “Hospice,” with barbs of bitterness submerged at varying depths below the surface.

Photo provided author
Photo provided author

“To be too certain about belief is a dangerous thing” writes Silas House in his most-recent novel “Lark Ascending.” That could make a fascinating keynote for the author’s “Dimensions of Faith” talk at St. Matthew’s (330 N. Hubbards Ln.) on Sunday, Apr. 30 at 6 p.m.

(Lark Ascending by Silas House; Algonquin, 288 pgs., $27)

Silas House - Photo provided by House
Photo provided by House
Silas House

House’s short novel has much on its mind, but it’s conveyed in relatively simple language. This is a fable of the near future, a cautionary look at one generation handing over the reins of a world they’ve brought close to utter destruction. Non-genre authors have approached this before, witness McCarthy’s classic “The Road” and more recently Lydia Millet’s “A Children’s Bible.”

Droughts, then wildfires, bring resource scarcity and desolation. As governments fall, the power vacuum is readily taken up by exploitative forces hiding behind (and gaining buy-in from) religious fundamentalism: “The Fundies always had excuses: [social segments that became targets for genocide] weren’t taken away or killed because of who they were or what they believed in or who they loved. Instead we were told they had been caught making bombs, or destroying property during protests.”

We follow a slow-motion flight of a half-dozen people from Maryland to a cautious idyll in Maine, but then a cross-ocean escape dwindles their numbers. Next is a contemplative survival tale of a found-family in a land that was once a refuge but has since shut its doors—with gunfire. This might seem to veer off from Silas House’s previous work in Southern fiction, but remaining elements include devotion to offering readers high quality along with a this-should-be-no-big-deal directness for opening their eyes. As far as his fabulist tale that seeks to sound alarms— action gets emphasis, and some expository scenes may seem reductionist, but the tale’s gripping notes make clear impact.

Photo provided by House
Photo provided by House