The Great Amer­i­can Song­book

A small tri­umph, a grow­ing aware­ness, a pleas­ant irony: these sto­ries draw forth sat­is­fac­tion.

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - JOE TAY­LOR

Sam Alling­ham A Strange Ob­ject Soft­cover $14.95 (192pp) 978-0-9892759-9-6

The nine sto­ries in Sam Alling­ham’s The Great Amer­i­can Song­book are a bril­liant ar­ray of forms, char­ac­ter and re­la­tion­ship types, prose styles, and points of view. Dif­fer­ent though these pieces are, they all ex­plore the some­times merg­ing themes of iden­tity and the cre­ative process.

Mu­sic is, at vary­ing times, ei­ther an in­ci­den­tal or a prom­i­nent fea­ture in the for­mer mu­sic in­struc­tor’s work. While mu­sic is touted to be “the essence,” si­lence is sought in sev­eral of these sto­ries as a nec­es­sary ad­junct to cre­ativ­ity. A char­ac­ter in “Bar Joke” ex­claims, “Some­day I’m go­ing to shut up and it’ll be the hap­pi­est day of my life.”

In the ti­tle story, the most pow­er­ful in the col­lec­tion, the clar­inetist Ar­tie Shaw bat­tles mad­ness dur­ing a Penn­syl­va­nia win­ter un­til “the sound of noth­ing at all” be­comes an end­ing and a be­gin­ning, and brings a peace that jump­starts new com­po­si­tions. As in mu­sic, si­lence, rep­e­ti­tion, pat­tern, sub­sti­tu­tion, and im­i­ta­tion be­come the dra­matic struc­ture in some sto­ries, while they are the finer de­tails in oth­ers.

“As­sas­sins” and “Rodgers and Hart” of­fer two vari­a­tions on the ques­tion of iden­tity. The lat­ter is a study in the con­trasts, in which each de­scrip­tive de­tail con­trib­utes to an im­pres­sion. In “As­sas­sins,” the four char­ac­ters are fixed in de­scrip­tive de­tail un­til As­sas­sin A shoots As­sas­sin D; As­sas­sin A, hav­ing killed off some­one like him­self, “has the strange sen­sa­tion of merg­ing into him­self, like pa­per fold­ing in­ward to form a pic­ture that had pre­vi­ously been hid­den.”

While these pieces in­volve con­flict or loss or es­trange­ment, their end­ings are sat­is­fy­ing—a small tri­umph, a grow­ing aware­ness, a pleas­ant irony. In “Stock­holm Syn­drome,” a con­ven­tional third-per­son nar­ra­tive, a woman es­capes the clutches of a man who she once thought was a vic­tim of the syn­drome, but is in re­al­ity a po­ten­tial per­pe­tra­tor. In “Love Comes to a Build­ing on Fire,” the jilted lover/nar­ra­tor has a last healthy thought: “When fire comes to a build­ing, Ra­mona, you have long since dis­ap­peared.”

Sam Alling­ham’s de­but col­lec­tion puts forth nine vari­ants on the short-story genre—and nine rea­sons for be­liev­ing there is more to come.

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