Charles Rafferty’s Short Fiction
Fomite Press, 2013
Reviewed by Seana Graham
Regular visitors to Escape Into Life may already be acquainted with the work of Charles Rafferty, as he is an EIL poet. I’ll give you a link to some of his work here at the end of this review. But it’s our very good fortune that he has also just published a book of short (sometimes very short) stories, and after taking a look at one of them at Cleaver Magazine, I was very eager to read more.
Short fiction, especially flash fiction, can be enticing to try because of its length and the usually fallacious idea that it will be a snap to write, but in fact it’s just as tricky as a longer piece, and perhaps trickier. The compression of a full story into a minimal amount of text requires perseverance, and perhaps in the end, a knack. It occurred to me after reading just a couple of Rafferty’s pieces that a poet might be better suited than most of us to succeed at such compression.
Although a few of his stories are whimsical (“My Yoga Pants, My Executioner” being an example), I’d say that Saturday Night at Magellan’s overriding theme is something like “the ruefulness of men”. The stories speak affectively of the condition of being husband and father, and the unfulfilled yearnings that inevitably accompany even a reasonably successful life. Rafferty’s stories are almost always told through the point of view of a mature man, though frequently they cast an eye back on boyhood or adolescence. Although sometimes his tales are about a moment that has gone wrong, often it’s simply that youth itself can’t be recaptured. In “Graffiti”, for example, the narrator’s earlier heroic declaration of love is something that can no longer even be attempted.
The stories set in adulthood consistently explore the gap between human beings. Rafferty’s protagonists would follow Forster’s injunction “Only connect”, if they could just figure out how. In “Skywriting”, the husband realizes:
“The bedroom door was shut now, all the way. It was a crucial moment. The right gesture could stop this argument, or whatever it was. They could curl up together on the couch for a movie. But Davis could not say what that gesture should be.”
For me, some of the most effective stories in the book are told in the voice of a father about his daughters. As a father of daughters himself, Rafferty borders on Louis C. K. territory, portraying the anxieties of an imperfect man still trying to be a good father to girls. The anxiety extends from present concerns into the unknown future. In what I believe is the only overtly violent scene in the book, a train conductor lands in trouble simply for making a not terribly suggestive remark around a man’s beautiful teenage daughter:
“All of us, the men anyway, feared we’d find out what it was like to be beaten on a train — for not understanding the problem of daughters in a world full of people like us.”