There is a magical process when a writer connects with you. The typeface fades into a picture and their words transport you quickly through their wormhole. Stephen Hines does this with incredible clarity. Each line attunes into itself. Those minute details fill one’s imagination, connecting all the senses, from the gas smell on hands, to the crunch and movement of snow.
This short story collection released from London publisher, Tangerine Press, has the cadence of a Badalamenti composition, meditative in its voyeurism, filled with many secrets. Eyeing the lines from the title story The Late Season, I was in danger of hyperventilating. It is mesmeric and you almost forget to breathe. Words are a sensation in this story, revealing another sense. Occasionally, hints of the dramas underbelly pops up. Why was Lily being so strange? Well there is a disturbance in these bricks and mortar. Carpet salesman Mr Halliday has overstayed his welcome. Lost and looking for answers, his presence shifts the fabric of family, his own sadness a slow drowning.
A 1946 DeSoto S11 Custom Convertible on the first day of spring has depth in its prose that is rich and sensitive. It is an ordinary working day for Jerry. Winter is melting and there is gas to pump. There is lots of painful thinking going on when you have a ‘kicked by a moose‘ hangover. With time on his hands, Jerry’s day is interrupted by truancy specialist Brian. A kid who asks too many questions, unknowingly connected to a past which sends us into a montage of scenes, past and present. Their connection realised, both one and the same, lost hearts in need of closure.
Onto The Roads This Time Of Year. Experience prepares the mind with almost psychic abilities, wisdom can be overwrought with mollycoddle. A stream of warnings can’t stop fate and the love for the child, adds another passing over the next worry bead. A similar mood in Honeymoon when mother and child don’t return from a boat outing, the terror of a grief striken imagination takes over. A hundred questions are asked, we go through the motions, we grieve and plan futures without knowing if one needs to. Defense mechanisms get into gear and whether it is tears or laughter, it is not until routine returns, will true feelings be revealed.
Every one of the stories ahead and the lives these short stories reveal are an easy dimension to switch into. Stephen Hines words are smooth on the eyes, generous with internal thoughts, captivating visuals, and perfectly natural banter. The way the voices echo, scenarios not very far removed from all of us. Overactive minds, the guilt felt by a discarded apple. These touches of asides stand out in the prose. Gentle life plays. It’s when he hits the centre, the fable, its truth, this is what really rumbles one’s emotions.
His characters minds become rooms, mysterious and intimate. You think you know outcomes early, but this is merely a false sense of predictability he so cleverly uses. Stephen will help you twist into a backflip. You question your ability to judge. He fits into all the personas he writes about with convincing characters, descriptions and motives that are tantalising and tactile. Voices choke with grief and reading through again never gets easier. His nihilism enters the room with you, putting the reader into the difficult position of uncomfortable observer, a beautiful masochistic realism.
The stories in the collection have a unique ambience, an exotic sparse ordinariness. The mood is a steady heartbeat even when the characters are anguished. One note plays like a backbone, linking all these stories together – they are all so exquisitely lonely. When you feel that, you will not be able to let go. Long after reading, the lives inside these stories will often resurface and you’ll think to yourself, what a freakin‘ great writer Stephen Hines is.