Madeline ffitch. Publishing Genius Press, $14.95 paperback (246p) ISBN: 978-0-9906020-0-2
Reading Madeline ffitch’s short story collection Valparaiso, Round the Horn is like going away to summer camp. Filled with wonder and rashes, nostalgia and mosquito bites, Valparaiso nestles in that magical place between discovering a new found freedom and being wretchedly homesick. ffitch’s stories abound with cruel children, wild animals and anxious, fallible parents. There is an earthy quality to all of her tales and the pieces in the collection work together to create a rich tapestry of masterful storytelling.
My favorite story in the collection is “What Wants to be Shot,” an account of teenagers wiling away the summer with rifles and footraces and flirtations. The prose here is delicious as ffitch perfectly recreates the sticky stillness of an aimless afternoon: “Each storefront had a stoop, and each stoop was baked hot in the afternoon sun the day they came to the intersection. They all noticed how quiet it was, as quiet as if they’d drawn the place with a crayon as they came along.” There is an edge of menace to “What Wants to be Shot” as Flip, Thomas and Hayworth wind up shooting more than beer cans and windows, and this is typical of ffitch’s stories. They are beautiful tales of discovery, but often a raw darkness is slowly bubbling underneath the surface.
ffitch’s real strength as a story teller is in her ability to surprise the reader. Whether it’s a startling description that makes perfect sense- “My dad touched his face, and felt tenderness, and felt the color blue”- or an abrupt twist ending, such as in “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” ffitch always keeps the reader guessing and entertained. At times, this abruptness can be shocking and unfulfilling. A few of the stories in the collection end suddenly after a long meander and left me wondering. I always felt as though I could trust ffitch, though. I might not have enjoyed the jolt endings, but I had the sense that ffitch was steering me along with purpose.
“Fort Clatsop,” “The Fisher Cat,” and “The Big Woman,” along with “What Wants to be Shot” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever” are the real jewels in this collection. These are pieces that quietly simmer in their commentary on the human condition. As with the often unconventional structure, each of ffitch’s stories has a purpose and a message, even if it is not always apparent at first. Part of the pleasure of reading Valparaiso, Round the Horn is stumbling across these nuggets of truth, whether in the storyline or the prose, and savoring them. With this collection, Madeline ffitch has clearly made her mark on the literary world and claimed her place as a storyteller to be reckoned with. (March 2015)
Purchase Valparaiso, Round the Horn HERE.
Reviewer bio: Steph Post is the author of the debut novel A Tree Born Crooked. Her short fiction has most recently appeared in Haunted Waters: From the Depths, The Round-Up and Stephen King’s Contemporary Classics. She currently lives, writes and teaches writing in St. Petersburg, Florida.