Some people are too stupid to be afraid on a runaway horse. Some people seize up. Some people turn cold and clear inside, like Clay, and only start to shake afterward. Annie sails into trouble like she wants it to last forever, like she can skim off from fear only what’s precious. She almost never comes off. – from The Mechanics of Falling, page 90 –
Catherine Brady’s latest collection of stories explore the various ways individuals respond to the unexpected events in their lives – will they seize up? Turn cold inside? Face things head on? Will they get back up after a fall, or give in to it? By exploring the ordinary lives of her characters, Brady reveals the extraordinary turns of fate and the gradual insight which swells inside us all when life does not go as expected.
In Scissors, Paper, Rock Natalie, an aging photojournalist, resists conforming to the changes in her profession and her behavior is accommodated at work. This irritates a co-worker, Liz, until a seemingly minor incident illuminates a deeper issue and forces Liz to examine her own values and sensitivities in the light of another person’s crisis.
Natalie’s visits reminded her of the happy time when her children were small, and they taught her over and over how to let each day happen as it would, centered on the wobbly axis of their needs and not her own intentions. The sick days that disrupted her plans were also enticing pools of time in which she might spend an entire afternoon reading in bed with a feverishly hot child pressed against her or playing endless rounds of scissors, paper, rock, in which no strategy could defeat the illogic of the hierarchy that set paper over rock, an open hand over a fist. – from Scissors, Paper, Rock, page 78 –
One of my favorite stories of the collection – Much Have I Traveled – involves Nina, married twelve years to her college professor, who examines the base on which her marriage turns during a weekend visit with friends. Nina and Carter’s marriage reveals itself gradually not only to Nina, but to the reader as well. When Brady describes a pond clotted with algae, it becomes a metaphor for the evolution of Nina and Carter’s relationship which has begun to shift under the shadow of Carter’s newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis.
When the pond became clotted with algae scum a few years ago, the channel from the creek slowly filling in, Nina had accepted this next small loss, the pond growing murky the way her memories of summers here as a child had silted up over time. They couldn’t really afford to keep up the property that had come to her, and they could not pay to dredge the pond. But Carter started digging a new channel from the creek and enlisted their guests in daily labor, flinging stinking muck on the grass, scoring the earth with shovels, tearing rocks from the creek bed and carting them in wheelbarrows to line the raw trench. – from Much Have I Traveled, page 162 –
In all of Brady’s stunning and beautifully wrought stories, there is a shift or change either inside the protagonist or within the primary relationship – boyfriend/girlfriend, daughter/father, husband/wife. The internal struggles of the characters are often paralleled with external events or catalysts. In Seven Remedies, a middle-aged woman finds herself juggling work, major house repairs, and rebellious children – but it is her struggle to communicate with her Mexican housekeeper which grants her the most insight into her relationships and what her life is all about.
She cannot get used to the construction noise, the sound of blows raining down as men rebuild her house. The gods have poor aim too. There are only these bungled missives that may or may not encode ruin. Or maybe it’s that Laurel misjudges the peripheral cues she’s given. The kind of peripheral cues – right turn after the yellow house, second left after the light, there’s the bus stop – she is forced to rely on when she tries to talk with Mayda, nothing ever precisely located. There’s just stumbling on. – from Seven Remedies, page 189 –
Brady creates memorable and complex characters whose inner lives are rich with doubt, fear, faith, and conflict. The characters encounter such things as infidelity, violence, medical decline, issues of aging and single parenthood. A simple story becomes an intriguing look at deeper issues through Brady’s careful and wise prose. I often found myself re-reading certain passages, teasing through them just to listen to the perfect rhythm and finely tuned nuance.
Short story collections like The Mechanics of Falling are rare – the ideal blend of excellent writing and good story telling, giving the reader a wealth of detail about the characters while leaving room for interpretation of what will happen next. A good short story makes the reader think while pulling them deeper into the lives of the characters. Catherine Brady has written eleven outstanding stories which compliment each other perfectly.
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Catherine Brady has published two other collections: Curled In The Bed Of Love (co-winner of the 2002 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and a finalist for the 2003 Binghamton John Gardner Fiction Book Award.) AND The End of the Class War (a finalist for the 2000 Western States Book Award in Fiction).