3rd December 2013

A Certain Kind of Freedom, compiled and edited by Beryl Belsky

Reviewing a fairly eclectic collection of writing such as this is not an easy task. What chiefly links these writings is their point of origin: they were all initially posted on The Writer’s Drawer website (http://www.thewritersdrawer.net/) and brought together into this volume by Beryl Belsky. They were written by people who would not, perhaps, normally consider themselves to be writers, those whom, as Belsky observes in the Preface, might be considered ‘shy’. They thus represent a collection of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry, without any common theme or genre.  Happily they are grouped into three broad sections: Short Fiction, Stories From Life, and Poetry.

As with any collection of writing, there are going to be some pieces that I like more than others. Personally, I prefer fiction to nonfiction or poetry and, not surprisingly, my favourite pieces fall into this category. By far the best story, for me, was the opening (and title) story, ‘A Certain Kind of Freedom’. I found the writing in this story simply sublime. I felt that the author, Susan Rodgers, didn’t put a foot wrong. The story was beautifully constructed and beautifully written. This also reveals one of my other biases, namely that I am a sucker for beautiful writing, even if a story is not brilliant. Not that there is anything wrong with the story here, as long as you recognise that a story does not have to involve murder and mayhem, aliens or vampires. The other standout fictional story for me was ‘Nuked’, by Robert Walton. It was fun and equally well-written, although in an entirely different style. Here there be aliens. It would be a pleasure to give each of these stories five stars.

The other fictional stories varied in quality, some working slightly better than others. None were bad, I emphasise. They just didn’t reach this standard for me.

The best of the ‘Stories From Life’, in my opinion, was ‘The Smoke Bird’, by Bryan Clark. I had a couple of little niggles that would keep it to 4.5 rather than five stars. None attained quite the standard of writing of the best of the fiction. There were a couple of pieces, although not necessarily badly written, which I felt did not really belong in this collection. These were more along the lines of essays than stories, fictional or otherwise.

Poetry. How does one review poetry? It is not my favourite genre. It is difficult even to decide what constitutes a poem. You do not turn words into a poem simply by distributing them over several lines. Some of the poems in this collection, in my opinion, fell into this trap. They were really prose, with arbitrary line spaces. For me, a poem needs to demonstrate the unusual and creative use of words and imagery; it should have some kind of rhythmic quality. Hopefully, words are used in a way that shifts my awareness. According to these criteria, the best of the poems were ‘Debris’ and ‘It’, both by Jane Tarlo. Some of the ‘eastern style’ poems also worked quite well.

So to sum it all up? There are going to be pieces here that you like, and pieces that you don’t like. At US7.65 in the paperback version, perhaps it’s not too much to invest. On the other hand, perhaps you might prefer to wait for the Kindle version. Overall, I would give this collection 3.5 stars.