Island Fog by John Vanderslice

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 288 pgs
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Island Fog by John Vanderslice is a collection of short stories placed in chronological order beginning in 1795 on Nantucket, Mass., through 2005.  These stories are dark and oppressive, and one of the most harrowing is “Taste,” which is likely to have some readers’ stomachs churning.

“Physical assault is a vaporous threat that gravitates around his being like the afternoon fog infecting the harbor.  A threat that, unlike the fog, never actually takes body.” (from “Guilty Look”, pg. 18)

“More than that, William said he could not live trapped in a nuthouse anymore.  ‘This island,’ he said to you, and you were not to take this personally, ‘feels like some mad doctor’s lab experiment.'”  (from “How Long Will You Tarry?”, pg 124)

Vanderslice weaves in the economic and social history of Nantucket to demonstrate the insular nature of an island and how dynamic it can be, despite that isolation.  The tension between Congregationalists and Quakers in colonial times is vibrant and engaging, as are the struggles of a young wife whose husband is lost at sea, but the overall collection is a mixed bag.  While the author strives to depict the disappointing pasts of characters on the island and their desires and hopes, the overall feel of the collection is one of a harsh island life that sometimes can feel like a prison to those who are native to the land and those who are merely visitors.

Island Fog by John Vanderslice is about peeling back the shroud of our neighbors lives and engaging with their personal lives in ways that many of us never expect.  The secret desires we harbor and the past transgressions we hide from even ourselves are revealed in these short stories, but beneath the fog is the desire to hope, the need to reach for something better than we have — even if in the end it is disappointing.  The collection would generate lively discussions in a book club.

About the Author:

John Vanderslice teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas, where he also serves as associate editor of Toad Suck Review magazine. His fiction, poetry, essays, and one-act plays have appeared in Seattle ReviewLaurel Review, Sou’wester, CrazyhorseSouthern Humanities Review1966, Exquisite Corpse, and dozens of other journals. He has also published short stories in several fiction anthologies, including Appalachian Voice, Redacted StoryChick for a DayThe Best of the First Line: Editors Picks 2002-2006, and Tartts: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers.  His new book of short stories, Island Fog, published by Lavender Ink, is a linked collection, with every story set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

Mailbox Monday #301

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Island Fog by John Vanderslice for a TLC Book Tour.

The eleven stories of Island Fog are connected by both geography and theme. Every story is set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, and together they span a period of Nantucket history from 1795 to 2005, with four different centuries represented. Some of the characters the reader meets along the way include an 18th century wigmaker accused of a notorious bank robbery, a 19th century “whaling widow” who has newly awakened to important aspects of her sexual nature, a former whale ship captain who once had to resort to cannibalism to survive an extended period at sea, a 20th century plumber whose wife jumped off the Hyannis to Nantucket ferry with her infant child in her arms, and a 21st century ghost tour leader who is being metaphorically haunted by a former lover.

2. The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight, illustrated by Terrence Tasker from Altaire Productions & Publications for review.

Passionate, brutal, and infused with extraordinary lyricism, The Antigone Poems provides a special expedition into the depths of the ancient Sophocles tragedy. The work’s obsessive, ritualistic and ultimately mysterious force brings into sharp focus the heroic, tragic figure at the center of the primordial compact between gods and humans.

3.  Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny from Milkweed Editions for review.

The poems in this collection emerge from these visits and capture the natural world she encounters around the sacred art, filling it with new, personal meaning: brief glimpses of starlight through the trees become a reminder of the impermanence of life, the controlled burn of a forest a sign of the changes associated with aging. Unlike traditional nature poets, however, Kwasny acknowledges the active spirit of each place, agreeing that, “we make a sign and we receive.” Not only do we give meaning to nature, Kwasny suggests, but nature gives meaning to us. As the collection closes, the poems begin to coalesce into a singular pictograph, creating “a fading language that might be a bridge to our existence here.”

4.  The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson for review.

Regina Robichard works for Thurgood Marshall, who receives an unusual letter asking the NAACP to investigate the murder of a returning black war hero. It is signed by M. P. Calhoun, the most reclusive author in the country.  As a child, Regina was captivated by Calhoun’s The Secret of Magic, a novel in which white and black children played together in a magical forest.  Once down in Mississippi, Regina finds that nothing in the South is as it seems. She must navigate the muddy waters of racism, relationships, and her own tragic past. The Secret of Magic brilliantly explores the power of stories and those who tell them.

What did you receive?