Despite the saying that a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover, inevitably, we all do it to some extent. In the case of This Alone Could Save Us, though no doubt completed long before we were up to our necks in global calamities, the cover image by artist Stuart Buck paired with that title feels prescient, and, reader, it delivers.
Story after story, some barely half a page long (one only a sentence), feed our darting minds, offer distraction and comfort.
And, yes, there are flashes of sorrow and regret, but there are also stories here of quiet, quivering joy. One of my favourites is Costume: “I taste salt and camaraderie on my tongue. The wind whips past our skin and the sand flicks behind us as we run towards the waves.”
Exhilaration and triumph rise outwards with those flicks of sand.
In those paragraphs, Prinzi reveals his knack for shapeshifting, on this occasion embodying an elderly woman recalling a youthful moment of rebellion. His focus as readily highlights the experiences of middle-aged straight women as those of gay young men, giving voice to whoever is best equipped to share the particular story that piqued Prinzi’s interest in that moment. It’s a generosity of authorship that feels welcome in a period that sometimes seems increasingly narrow and boxed-in.
Other themes and preoccupations show themselves in last lines – a yearning for talismans to keep us safe, and superstitions that a wrong word could tempt fate. Love, in some tales, feels like something that only becomes real once lost. The moon trembles in several stories, on the brink of an unhappy ending (and doubling up for the misinformation campaign now known as Brexit), while ageing parents weigh heavily on several pages.
This is a collection crammed with yearning, anxiety and aching quantities of compassion, shared with skill and beauty. Exquisitely crafted lines knit passages together: “Six weeks until this humdrum town can fizzle through your fingers, until this man will deny all knowledge of your becoming.” (Dissolve); “It’s not that I have a bad relationship with time, but time has a bad relationship with me.” (Some Feelings of Emptiness Feel Emptier than Others); “I hear the detonation, and I don’t see the man I’ve quietly loved all these years.” (The Landmines Up Near Sapper Hill Sing).
Prinzi has a way of enrobing sublime human moments in small acts, as in Smoke Detectors, in which bereavement is illustrated through the act of identifying which warning machine is relentlessly bleeping. “I grab him, steadying him like my mother would’ve done. I’ve got you, I say, and through the smoke detector’s wail we hold each other. I’ve got you too, he says. I’ve got you too.” The tenderness is profound.
These are tiny tales that hold infinity at their hearts, speaking of our endless capacity to love, grieve and hope. Well worth your energy and time, if only to remind yourself that in life, as in fiction, there are endless possible endings up for grabs.
What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.