In Just The Right Light is a stunning collection of interconnected short stories from William R. Soldan, these stories link through sense of place, characters or events, the connections are there, they might be loose and you’ll need to pay attention but you can follow the journey of these characters, this town and its inhabitants right through the book and boy the end destination is worth the traveling time.
This book is full of prose magic, it’s a uniquely and stunningly adept collection that propels Soldan into the category of I need more of his writing in my life – the prose as I mentioned is stunning, dealing with many flavours of character, we’ve the gritty, the deplorable, the loveable and the heart rending all wrapped up in a book that encapsulates not only fine stories but a life, lives, under the microscope, a whole community of people and places and their roles within said place. Soldan masterfully exposes their frustrations, desires, sins, addictions, pain and suffering by beautifully etching these onto the page, and in doing so it not only enraptures the reader but holds you prisoner to the story that Soldan wants to tell.
The sense of place in this collection is rich, so much so that I could smell the heat and the liquor , I could feel the rusted metal and the scorching sun, I could see the ruin of delicate things, the boarded up windows, the broken bottles, the desperation and the hope that Soldan’s cast of characters cling to.
So on with the stories…
Trapper’s Creek – Arthur Pruitt is our main protagonist and there is something hidden about his past and why the town dislike him so much, this sense of tension is masterfully put across by Soldan and it had me thinking of Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God. Pruitt has been vilified for no reason, he’s been found not guilty of the crime, but this small town firmly believe where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. There is also touching undertones in this of a fathers love and sacrifice – and his decisions that need to be made regarding his son Lester who has returned shell shocked from the war is moving as it is cutting, what a story to start this most beautiful collection.
Something Special – Jesse arrives at Dwight’s for a showdown, the man owes him $100 bucks and times are hard and he needs it back, Jesse’s wife Charlene is pissed at him as they didn’t have the money to lend in the first place and Charlene has thrown him out until he gets it back. He doesn’t have the money but instead has a proposal which could set the slate clean. A wonderful look at a family at breaking point, of life spiraling out of control and nothing to stop the decline but the concrete floor.
The Call – Louis Beckett (police chief) – Nancy Foster – there is a history here between Louis Beckett and Nancy – he’s been looking after her for some time, the towns resident problem woman. They shared a connection and a bed a while ago and she’s still got her claws in him now, and when her daughter goes missing there is only one person she can rely on to help find her and bring her back and Beckett answers that call – some familial issues here, along with how families can fall apart and be in all different shapes and sizes.
Running – This was a familial story and Soldan doesn’t waste anytime with a preamble we dive straight into the violence and chaotic life of a mother and her son as they are again fleeing a violent situation with another man that is on the scene – this is common place, there’s always some shit-kicking piece of crap they have to escape from. It’s heartbreaking as our young protagonist details how many times they’ve had to run away and start again… but will this time be any different?
Letting Go – Bobby is at the bar drinking to Dee (his elderly friend – a mother figure) who’s funeral was today, he sits and stews in his own anger as he hears the sympathy card slogans being handed around by those who barely knew Dee or who took Dee for a ride, they didn’t know her like he knew her. Bobby during and after being thrown out of the bar starts to reminisce about his good and dear friend – and finds a new way of coping, but is he really coping or just surviving in a world that Dee no longer inhabits?
The Thirteenth Step – I love stories that deal with addiction and these AA type situations and Soldan has crafted a mighty fine gem of one here, we see the story from our protagonists POV as he attends the weekly meetings in fact he’s almost given up his addiction for a new addiction – that being his attendance at these groups where he becomes somewhat a voyeur and ends up studying this group, following them after sessions, and now he’s hooked, he’s addicted and where will this new addiction lead him and will he ever break the cycle?
The Nest, The Cage – This takes a different storytelling angle as it’s a letter. Dustin writes to his mother from jail, talking about his current life in the prison, what he’s been up to, the people, connections, the power struggles – and his latest charge. It’s a way for him to escape in the letter, the way words could set him free from the place that pulls him down and smothers him. It’s heartfelt and frank, and the voice of the protagonist is one I could have listened to for hours.
Portraits of the Dead and Dying – A coming of age tale akin to The Body by Stephen King, I loved this story, it brought up feelings of nostalgia for me, of times out in the woods exploring without a parent in sight, of having fun with friends and adventures that we wouldn’t tell a soul. Our two protagonists go in search of a crashed plane and pick over the wreckage – the discover things, secrets, secrets that they will never tell.
Ballard of a Winter Child, 1978 – This one is a gut wrenching story of young unfrequented love, of tough choices and silence, of loneliness and struggles of being young and carrying a burden you’re unable to shift. It’s a story of friendship, love, hope and survival – all wrapped up in teenage angst and it’s wonderfully executed, the heartache in the story was something palpable and really connects with the reader.
The Sailor and the Saint – Our protagonist has a decision to make, to stay or go, so he spends his remaining time trying to find a reason for both. A familial tale of growing older and wanting more than you’ve been dealt to date.
Talking and Standing Still – The shortest story in the collection and this one is about a husband and wife growing apart, and the reflection on something that was and would never be again. It’s to the point and funny and it had me thinking of Bukowski and his book Women.
The Bad Ones – This one for me seemed to link with another story but I’ll leave that up to the reader – this story is about brotherhood, friendship and bullies. Of how there is always a runt of a friendship group and how that person takes the pain, the suffering and the humiliation because that’s what they feel they deserve. It’s a story about how to break those habits, how to stand up for one another, of brotherhood and how to break the ties that bind. Loved this one. There is an unsaid part to this story that echoes a previous story and for me left a haunting feeling hanging on the story.
In Just The Right Light – A stag night holds more than what is expected for our groom-to-be as he sets off on a night of freedom, where he unwittingly begins to see lives being torn apart and try as he might he can’t repair the tear.
The most beguiling of collections and a writer that has delivered a stonking read. The prose in this book is nothing short of stunning, it’s stripped back and gritty, there are no wasted words here, each word propels the story forward and shows us a unique snapshot of middle America in all its dirty shades. In Just The Right Light brought to mind some of the great works by Raymond Carver, Callan Wink, Meagan Lucas, Donald Ray Pollock, Ron Rash, Don West (I could go on), but this book is something special, this is the announcement of William R. Soldan to the literary world. I can’t wait to see what Soldan does next, he has a couple of other collections which I’ll be checking out, and one day I hope that we get a novel… because I would buy the hell out of that!
William R. Soldan
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1982, William R. Soldan grew up in and around the Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio, with a brief stint in the hills of southern Oregon. A high school dropout and college graduate, he holds a BA in English Literature from Youngstown State University and an MFA from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program. Over the years, he has been employed as a factory machinist, maintenance man, house painter, record store clerk, line-cook, bartender, bouncer, writing instructor, personal trainer, and a host of other things. William’s work draws greatly from the urban and rural landscapes of the post-industrial Midwest–the stark beauty, the resonant history, the strength and endurance of its grappling working-class.
Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, William’s work appears in publications such as Elm Leaves Journal, New World Writing, Jellyfish Review, Gordon Square Review, Coffin Bell, Thuglit, (b)OINK, Bending Genres, Anomaly Literary Journal, Cowboy Jamboree’s All We Need of Hell: A Harry Crews Tribute, Mystery Tribune, The Best American Mystery Stories 2017, Ohio’s Best Emerging Poets Anthology, and many others. His first book, In Just the Right Light, a linked short story collection set in northeast Ohio, is being published by Unsolicited Press in March of 2019, and his second collection, Houses Burning, is due out in 2020 by Shotgun Honey Press.
In the meantime, William resides in Youngstown with his wife and two children and divides his time between being a fitness coach and teaching community writing workshops throughout the Youngstown area. He’s also the co-coordinator of The Strand Project, a staged set of dramatic monologues performed each spring at Selah Dinner Theatre.
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