In a recent issue of Prospect Magazine, writer Ruth Franklin asserted that “Ten years ago the American short story was in decline. Now it is once again a vital genre.” Author Eli Thorpe’s new collection of 14 short stories, The Weight of Deeds, most certainly provides testimony to support Franklin’s claim.
Like other authors recently, Thorpe decided to follow his well-regarded first novel, The Valley of Ashes, with a book of short stories rather than a second novel. For readers who appreciate short fiction, his decision was a blessing. The Weight of Deeds makes a strong, consistent statement that Thorpe is a marvelous, gifted writer and a first-rate storyteller. These stories are relevant, thoughtful and eclectic and truly well written.
What I like most about this collection is the breadth of subjects and the spectrum of tone. A sharp sense of irony is evident in many of the stories and nearly all of the stories are written in a plain style, even those which explore the supernatural, that still manages to evoke both delicate and powerful emotions in the reader.
One story that displays the full range of Thorpe’s gifts is “Mountain Echoes,” the source of the book’s title. This is the story of an unsettled soul on a road trip get-away without a map, who stumbles upon a small mountain town where he had lived and worked a short time, when he was only 21, more than 30 years before. At one point Thorpe describes the central character’s inner thoughts: “He toyed with the idea of going in, trying to imagine the scene, if everyone was there, and he made himself known…Then he laughed wryly to himself, knowing the image to be as false as any of the hopes those people had had for him. He had been an interruption in their lives, surrounded by violence and pain. However central those people were to his memories of this place, he knew he was just a bit player in their memories.” I was on strong home turf with this story and for me it echoed the work of one of my favorite short story writers, Chris Offutt.
As a person with deep connections to nature, the story “The Tree” offered me a strong spiritual reading experience. The back cover notes aptly describe it as the story of a young boy who challenges himself to climb the same tree his father once climbed, and finds himself in a precarious situation — too high and with the sun about to set.
The very first story that is offered, “Emily,” follows the interwoven lives over the years of a man and woman who had been friends almost their entire lives. It is a marvelous opener in every way and as a result, the reader is put on notice that they are embarking on a journey with a first-rate storyteller writing near the peak of the craft.