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This Storyteller Purrs – A review of The Storyteller Speaks by Annika Perry

This is not about the war between lovers of dogs or cats. It’s about Annika Perry, a talented writer who works like a cat.

A dog is all blubbery love smeared across your cheeks, a loyal paladin stationed stalwart by your side. Tongue lollygagging out of its jaw, tail flailing around like a pig in a muddy pit – you’re gonna be drowning in slobbery canine love in about five seconds. Or maybe a fangy foreign agent hired to attack: a German shepherd or English pit bull. Teeth bared and muzzle lowered –you better run. You always know where you stand with Rover.

But a cat – you can’t tell anything by looking at a cat. There it sits on the windowsill, licking its paw, indifferent to all things human – the tasty treats, the dangling mouse toy, the arms ready to cuddle it. Suddenly it pounces, its claws deep in your bicep leaving parallel bloody tracks or a snip of your skin flapping loosely as it samples your nose. And then sashays back to the windowsill to await its next victim. Go ahead, stick around, it could be you again, if you dare to get close enough. Silly you, thinking Puss loves ya.

I mention this because Annika Perry writes like a cat. There she sits at the window, chewing on the end of her pencil, watching the world go by. And if you are anywhere near her line of sight, she’s probably watching you. Observing you and all your little peccadilloes. Like the way you hold a letter that might seal your future, or how you sip wine while your mind is loitering elsewhere. How the March wind drives rain upwards, making an umbrella useless. How a bouquet of vibrant flowers devastates you with memories and also lights up your world. You didn’t know she was looking that closely, did you? That’s a cat for you – indifferent but all knowing.

At first glance, The Storyteller Speaks appears to be gentle family fare, tales written by a sweet faced, blue eyed lady who spends her time between Great Britain and Sweden, bearing candles and roses, taking photos, penning notes. It’s how she entices you to her book. I’ve read The Storyteller Speaks twice, the first time in order of presentation, the second in a meandering stroll through her poems and short stories.

If I attempt to review each of the twenty-one entries, I’ll over-report and do the book no justice. So I’m going to focus on a few tales that blew me away, as if driven by a sirocco out of the Sahara. This is important to remember, because like a cat, Perry sneaks up on you to lunge for your emotional jugular while you’re unaware she’s even in the room. She’s a keen observer of people, absorbing cultural details and body language.

Sofia! is about a little girl and her stuffed toy whose uncle takes her to visit the local zoo. It’s told through eyewitness accounts of zoo visitors and officials who answer Inspector Nunn’s questions.  Apparently the child, Sofia, has been kidnapped or gotten lost as the focus of each interrogation appears to be what has happened to the child. Perry escalates suspense as we wait to find out if Sofia is safe or remains lost or even perhaps is dead, our suspicion and concern for the little girl mounting with each witness. The final person interviewed is Marija, Sofia’s mother, to whom Nunn relates the awful conclusion of the story. A shred of flesh hangs from Perry’s claws.

At a Loose End is a sweet story, about the time of life when you want to make significant changes to accommodate a different economic reality and new opportunities. Some decisions need only a small alteration, an act not possible a few years earlier. But family wedges into the narrow spaces and – I won’t ruin the story for you. But I bet you’ll agree. It’s a rather sweet story, proving sometimes the cat just wants to sun herself on the sill.

Lasting Sanctuary is a shorter story but one that packs a twist worthy of Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. To encompass so much in a wisp of a tale, just a brief iteration of this cat’s nine lives, is brilliant.

My favorite story is The Whiteout Years, and I’ve read it four times. Out of the gate, it captivated me with passages as lyrical as this one when Carl is driving through a winter storm, remembering his wife, Karin:

A moment of total silence. With the windows down he sat and listened. He never failed to be awed by the silence, the odd rustle of snow falling gently to the ground from the laden fir trees. The odd animalistic sound deep in the forest, feral and prehistoric.

While this scene describes the landscape surrounding Carl, it also describes his isolation from the world. Lost in the snowdrift of his grief over his wife’s death, he is blinded by silence and whiteness and can’t move on with his life. The threat of Carl’s possible death looms throughout the story.

Annika Perry is a writer in tune with our deepest responses to the human condition, capturing the nuances of our psyche. Like an alert cat, she assesses carefully, knowing what to absorb for future use, how to convey realistic dialogue, which details will reveal more than the sum of their parts, and how to wind an unpredictable plot out of simple fare.

Unlike cats, Perry is respectful of people and all their foibles.

 

Image of cat courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

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