-Reviewed by Linda Legters–
Stories that appear on printed pages often begin as quiet, interior monologues. To varying degrees, we writers wrestle with real and imaginary audiences as we work to bring these stories – these monologues – to fruition, but the process is largely private and probably silent. Even if we share our work along the way, rarely do we develop our craft in front of live audiences as have the writers who appear in the Rattle Tales collections. The Rattle Tales group founders, Erinna Mettler, Amanda Welby-Everand, Alice Cuninghame and Edward Rowe, transfer the raw energy of live storytelling to the printed page in order to reach a wider audience, but, as their website explains, “We think that story-telling should be about the listener as much as the story-teller, and that most of all it should be about having fun.”
And so, these collections begin as an interactive short story event. Colourful football rattles are given to the audience to show appreciation in lieu of applause. Writers read, people listen, rattles are shaken, and discussions ensue. What courage the writers need for such immediate feedback! To my knowledge, no other vehicle quite like it exists here in the U.S. It should. The published stories retain the fresh aura of performance, not because they are unpolished, but because they are so present, so here. Each vibrant tale feels as though it were being spun for our ears. This sense of immediacy makes these tales unusually compelling.
Among the twenty-seven selections are to be found a praying mantis that is both prey and predator, a hangover disguised as a bear, a candy addiction, the lovelorn and the newly loved. Reality comfortably resides with the surreal. The writers, all skilled, kind, and honest, bravely tackle the sometimes funny and sometimes harrowing aspects of our psyches and lives.
On the funny end, Ryan Miller’s begins his ‘Waking Up a Bear’ with ‘As I stretch I feel an overwhelming craving for salmon.’ The fellow has no recollection beyond having had a heavy-duty party night, but ‘…a nice cage, much bigger than my apartment … And hey! A pool!’ And Jade Weighell’s ‘Blue’ takes a still different look at overdoing things in the form of an addiction to blue – and only blue – Smarties.
At the opposite end, Alice Cuninghame’s ‘Tunnels’ maintains a singular sense of interior monologue – the stream of consciousness of a homeless hoarder – but it is also conversational, making the narrator our intimate. ‘Eyemaker’, by Rebecca Parfitt, is a rich, almost Poe-like tale about an oculist’s last appointment. ‘That night he dreamt of a ravine: a land covered in eyes, blue, green, yellow. They poured waterfalls down into bowl shaped pools.’ As a result, he decides to sacrifice his own sight to create the perfect eye for his last customer.
These, along with Joseph Joyce’s ‘Ganglion’, are as troubling as Joyce’s and Weighell’s stories are funny. Here, the hunt for a praying mantis turns grisly: ‘there bubbled a lust and hatred, the essence of the hunt’, writes Joyce. At what point, he seems to be asking, are we one with our victims? By extension, at what point are we one with the homeless, the bear, the addict, or the oculist?
Writing students are told to ignore audience to avoid that audience drowning out the sound of one’s own voice. Surely these stories arrived on the stage highly evolved, but still open to interpretation and revision. I envy that crowd.