— Fissures and Other Stories, by Timothy Dodd (Bottom Dog Press, 2019)
Timothy Dodd’s Fissures and Other Stories is a slim tome of 19 short stories that mostly take place in West Virginia, but whose range of themes and characters build a larger world, recognizable and yet intriguing.
Some of Dodd’s stories have recurring themes, but it is in their subtle variations where one can appreciate the author’s ability to not only transport us to a place but also to delve into the psyche of his characters. The haunting stories “Tunnel” and “Mannequins” both describe the arrival of a lonely man into a seemingly desolate city. In “Tunnel,” the narrator Rob gets off a Greyhound early in the morning and wonders around a Wheeling that comes to life in Dodd’s somber descriptions. Rob is waiting for his hotel room to be ready but he is also delaying an uncomfortable visit to his old family home, where his father is dying and his sister will not miss a chance to make him feel guilty for his seemingly protracted absence. In “Mannequins,” a snow storm forces Andrew to spend Christmas Eve in Cumberland, alone in a hotel room while his family opens presents back home in Tomahawk, WV. Both protagonists are estranged from their families, and the empty streets they wander through accentuate that separation.
In “Tunnels,” Rob meets a prostitute in a bar and takes her to his hotel. On the way, he wonders “… what ghosts sleep in the deserted buildings we pass.” In a clumsy attempt to engage in small talk, he wonders what will happen to the town. The woman answers bluntly: “Nothing’s going to happen (…) I’m saving up and getting out before I’m too old to hope anymore.”
In “Mannequins,” a hotel clerk who just moved to Cumberland from Chicago flirts with Andrew, and their mutual emptiness seems to be projected on the deserted city outside, where “the moon and the glare from streetlamps and the snow all mixed their luster together in the dark cold, beams and crystals of light shining over dreary life.”
Both stories bring to mind West Virginian writer Breece Pancake’s own masterful tale “A Room Forever,” in which a tugboat worker with no family or home spends the night in a town by the Ohio River and also seeks to kill time and loneliness with a partner. Although they may exhibit Pancake’s influence, Dodd’s stories are tonally different and display his own assured voice.
An Auspicious Debut
Another recurring theme in this collection is that of the young man seeking to leave the confines of his hometown and break with family tradition. In both the melancholic “Fissures” and the more comedic “The Handyman’s Heat,” their respective protagonists seek to get a liberal arts degree, a goal that pits them against their families and social environment, as parents and acquaintances cannot quantify the abstract value of such an endeavor.
Another young man whose imagination wanders far away from his hometown (“a town that probably felt like I did, a town where I worried I’d live my whole life, a town that I doubted many people knew existed”) is the narrator of “By Warlock’s Design.” His simple goal in life is “to make a cheap, amateur film with my friends about some monsters, mostly to get away a little bit from the ones I lived with every day.”
While some stories in the collection feel more like vignettes or sketches of a place, they add to the cumulative effect of authenticity and a warts-and-all depiction of West Virginia. It is in these moments that Dodd’s writing is at its most captivating, when the shadow of the land is cast upon the characters, and the characters’ mood seems to shape their surroundings. Fissures and Other Stories is Dodd’s first short story collection and the auspicious debut of a talented new writer.
— Gonzalo is a writer born in Texas, raised in Chile, and currently living in Shepherdstown. His books have been published in Spain and Chile, and his fiction has appeared in Boulevard, Goliad, and The Texas Review, among others.Review by Gonzalo Baeza