BOOK REVIEW: Chain Linked by Michelle Blair Wilker

Michelle Blair Wilker’s Chain Linked is a wonderfully deep, rich and varied short story collection. It’s a collection that has a real heart to it. Wilker talks about the things we sometimes overlook in life or are too busy to notice; love, fleeting conversations, casual observations, loss, regret – it’s in essence a collection that details the fabric we are all made from and is a masterful collection of observational writing.

We are bound together and yet broken apart, like a chain link fence.

There are so many stories within this collection that pull at the heartstrings, stories that wrap themselves around you and won’t let go, with many playing on your mind long after you have finished the anthology – that my friends is the power of this collection and the readability of Wilker. Each story leaves its mark, like a scar, letting you know that it’s happened and ensuring you’ll never forget where you got it. Wilker has the astounding ability to transport her reader effortlessly through various locations, characters and lives without ever seeming to force these lives upon the reader – each story feels fresh and organic and observationally astute.

Muted Splendor is one of my favourite stories of the collection, it really hit a cord with me as my niece and nephew are both deaf. The way Wilker has captured the special relationship of her characters is brilliant and never patronising – giving each character a ballsy vibe which I fell in love with. The small observations, actions and internal struggles that she weaves throughout the story are truly brilliant, canny and make Muted Splendor a compelling read. It made me think of what my niece and nephew might be like when they are older as they forge their special bond now. It is both a poignant and heartwarming reading – this story in particular was just so raw and astute, and told with a deft touch and a mastery of the short form.

Chain Linked the title story of the collection is also such a unique and powerful story. From Wilker’s delectable prose, to the structure of the piece (shown from two different points of view), to the masterful conclusion – it’s beautiful, funny, awkward and a fabulous piece of writing. The story is quite simply woman meets man. But this woman has in fact never spoken to this man, just observed him (quite possibly stalked him) through the chain linked fence, where she walks her dog in the park each day, and where he battles it out on the basketball court. It’s a story about attraction and the all consuming lust for someone. The carnal feelings for a person who is out of reach for whatever reason that may be, someone you may never actually get to talk to or meet. But those feelings just won’t go away, they just consume you, always there, persistent, like an itch you can never scratch or rid yourself of. Wilker delivers such a thought-provoking piece of fiction – which in essence is again, all about connection, finding connection in the busy worlds and lives that we live, whether those connections are fleeting or longterm it’s still what we crave. Chain Linked is about us as people searching for belonging and sometimes even finding it. But it’s holding onto it which is the hard part. Chain Linked is such a poignant story – I may even be as bold to say one of the best short stories I read in 2018 (and if you know me or know anything about STORGY you should know that I and we read hundreds every year – so you can trust me we know what we are talking about!).

There are so many other terrific stories in this collection that I could go into each one with great detail, but for me the true magic of this collection needs to be enjoyed by you, the reader – so do yourselves a favour and pick up a copy! It will be the best thing you do all year…and the year is very young indeed!

If you want a collection of short stories which fully explores the human condition in all its chaos and beauty and rawness, then look no further than Michelle Blair Wilker’s stunning collection Chain Linked.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

We also published a guest post by Michelle Blair Wilker this year called Story Detour and you can read it here.

Michelle Blair Wilker

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Michelle Blair Wilker is a Los Angeles-writer and producer. Her work has appeared in Across the Margin, Whistlingfire, Hollywood Dementia, Unheard LA, Felix Magazine, and The Huffington Post. She was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s November 2012 contest for new writers and shortlisted for the Fresher Writing Prize in 2015. In 2017, she attended DISQUIET: Dzanc Books International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal, and was featured in The New Short Fiction Series in Los Angeles. Her first book, Chain Linked Stories was published in June through Post Hill Press and Simon & Schuster. Chain Linked was recently selected for the 2018 Montana Book Festival.

You can find and follow Michelle on Instagram:

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Chain Linked is published by Post Hill Press

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To purchase a copy of Chain Linked click on the image below:

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The human heart: you can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it.

We are bound together and yet broken apart, like a chain link fence.

We yearn for connection’s kinship and mourn its losses; it is the fabric of our existence and what drives us. The agony of lost love, the hollowness of an absent family member, the cute guy on the basketball court that you just can’t muster up the courage to say hi to. A summer trip to Montauk. A night out at a salty dive bar. A foghorn in the distance, sipping a sweet drink. Emptying the fridge, packing up the old condo. Listening to Grandpa’s corny jokes. Wondering if life as a prep school art teacher meant anything. Getting even with your older brother. Haunted by Havana’s vacant casino high rises and ancient automobiles, dreaming of pizza in Rome.

Chain Linked chronicles life’s joys and discontents in vivid detail and gives us a window into our souls.

You can also purchase Chain Linked form the below suppliers:

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Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.

From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.

EXIT EARTH includes the short stories of all fourteen finalists of the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature) and additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), and exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.

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