Monday, September 11, 2006

Stories From Sunset Hill, reviewed

The following is a review of my short story collection Stories From Sunset Hill by novelist Susan DiPlacido, reprinted here with her permission:
There are moments in life that define us, change us, affect us. They can be big, landmark occasions, or sometimes they're smaller, quieter moments of revelation, loss, or triumph. This is what Don Capone understands, and illustrates, so well in his debut collection of short stories, Stories From Sunset Hill.

Sometimes the moments come while fleeing in a hail of gunfire, or while getting teeth knocked out by a bare-knuckled punch. And sometimes the moments are much more mundane and happen while simply eating a yogurt, or rifling through your grandfather's long-boxed up belongings. But just because some of the moments are quieter or more introspective doesn't mean they aren't weighted as heavily with emotion or as fraught with tension.

In this collection, Capone navigates effortlessly from the high-octane, heavy action narrative to the whispery, introspective tales and manages to make them all resonate just as strongly.

The setting of Sunset Hill, New York serves as the connective tissue between the individual stories, and Capone indeed uses this to its full potential, making the neighborhood a supporting character, drawing on its history and lore, sometimes having a person from one story make a brief appearance in another, sometimes picking up on a small detail and using the imagery again. And the details are part of what's so good about all these stories. The characters and setting are vivid and knowable because there almost seems to be a blurring of fiction and reality at times, because the telling minutiae is so well captured.

In "Green Panties," we see a man's life spiral out of control with the appearance of a mysterious pair of underwear. While in "Raze," a small, seemingly meaningless change and upgrade in the neighborhood is just the impetus to give another resident a new hope. There are unexpected, clever and ironic twists in a few of the tales, while some are straightforward and heartfelt. And some, such as "nineeleven," are simply heartbreaking. Because while the geography contains all the people in the stories, it's still ultimately their connections to each other that matter, and how their pasts and futures weave together. A teenage pharmacy worker comes to this understanding in "The Midget of Gramatan Avenue," and the local "freak," whose own history is splintered, still manages to carry plenty of collected history.

Exceptionally well written, with plenty of humor, and characters that all feel more like real people rather than fictional constructs, Sunset Hill is a great place to swing by and visit, and Capone is an excellent tour guide.