A Sensitive Portrayal of an Alternative Lifestyle

So They Say, Collected Stories: Author, Jack A. Urquhart

Book Review by Lorinda J. Taylor, March 9, 2012

The subtitle of this book is “Collected Stories,” but it’s really a novel set forth in a series of short pieces that follow the progress of the main character, Rex Fordham, a gay man who is seeking to find both his confidence and a quality human relationship that can provide fulfillment to his life.

The author is a skilled stylist, both in linguistic maneuvers and in his use of poetic elements. The story begins with Rex’s childhood in Florida, and the use of dialect suggests that the reader has encountered a piece of Southern fiction. This lasts for only four stories, however, before Rex leaves home.

Most of the stories are told from Rex’s POV in the third person, but the second and fourth are first person narrative, and one story (the least successful in my opinion) is couched in the uncommon second person. Six of the stories are told from a different character’s POV, thus widening the perspective.

The author creates a sense of immediacy by shifting between present and past tense. The first six stories mostly employ the ordinary past tense; the shifts begin in the seventh, using present tense for immediacy and shifting back to past tense when the POV character is thinking of the past. It’s an effective technique, carried out seamlessly.
One could find many examples of the quality of the prose, but space constraints have made me decide to analyze only one story in any depth. The title is “Scree,” a simple but subtle narrative of Rex’s solitary hike into the Colorado mountains on the day before his wedding with a woman he genuinely cares about but with whom he is not completely comfortable. He is experiencing “calcifying angst” about the wedding and he hopes the exercise will help everything fall into place. On the way he encounters a myopic man who has laid his glasses down and now can’t find them. Rex helps him out, realizing that this is a man he has often seen cycling away from his apartment building. Rex and Mitch continue their hike together, conversing, getting acquainted, getting comfortable with each other. Mitch is a big man, but with “Fred Astaire fluidity, a natural agility writ large … [and a] complexion which featured a swirling universe of pale freckles like flecks of mica on the surface of his skin.” It’s cold and they look for a place out of the wind where they can eat their lunch. The climb to the cave is strewn with scree and, as Rex loses his footing, Mitch catches him by the hand and pulls him to safety. Rex’s leg is injured and as Mitch tends the scrape, the relationship between them changes, escalates. Ultimately, Mitch makes a subtle overture – and Rex, heavily conflicted, is forced to tell him that he is getting married tomorrow. Quoting the end is the best way to illustrate the author’s writing abilities:

Mitch speaks. “We’d better – we’d better hit the trail – before it’s – too late. […] You’ve got … big day … details … rested … ‘ he said, his voice battered by a force of nature powerful enough to churn sentences into fragments, meaning into isolated words, and finally, just syllables.

“Later – after the silent trek down the mountain, after the cursory leave taking in the parking lot – Rex would drive down the canyon remembering it all: the moment when Mitchell had grasped his hand and those few breathless seconds when he’d known that he was saved, when he’d known as surely as mountains will crumble into boulders, boulders shatter into talus and scree, that they were both holding on for something like dear life, and what a risk it would be to let go.”

The remainder of the stories are mostly involved with that perilousness of life – of how to let go, how to find one’s own path and live with the losses that inevitably occur in that process. Other stories are more aggressively symbolic, such as “Irises, Purple Irises,” where Rex’s gay identity finally can no longer be ignored by his family (a raging storm illustrates that turmoil, while Marcia’s futile attempt to ignore reality is mirrored in her dogged efforts to root out the rhizomes of wild irises which are taking over the yard and which will always come back no matter how hard one works).

The collection entitled “So They Say” does contain some crude language and considerable explicit gay sex, rendering it most suitable for mature readers, but while it could be classified as gay-themed fiction, it is much broader than that, because issues of love, empathy, and compassion are fundamental to humanity as a whole. It makes an absorbing piece of literature for any of those whose point of view is generous enough to allow them to appreciate that human beings are all one species and that human needs transcend a particular sexual identity.

Sci-Fi novella by the reviewer:
Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Report on the Anthropological Expedition to the Planet Known as Kal-fa

See also Ruminations of a Remembrancer

 

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About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until 2010, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in southern California.
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