In his debut chapbook, Samuel Snoek-Brown takes readers through the lives of characters who struggle with what it means to live in and make sense of a world that seems to be slipping from the very fingers by which they try to grasp it. In language that is poetic, evocative, and lean, Snoek-Brown has managed to create a world that is authentic and laced with pain that lingers long after you have finished the book.
As a new author myself, I understand the importance of capturing your reader and holding their attention. In “Distance”, we are introduced to Lemuel and the cell phone that he impulsively buys:
It’s been a month since he’d impulsively bought the cell phone for the feed business, and Lemuel hadn’t seen any use for it until that day in San Antonio when the semi tipped and stopped traffic flat.
As I first began to read the story, I wondered how this would play out: a cell phone, a man, and a Swisher Sweet. I wondered at the idea of how this seemingly normal thing—buying a cell phone—turned into a situation that questions a person limits, their desires. When the story ended, Snoek-Brown had woven a tale of simmering loneliness and what it will make you do—the fantasy world that one will create in order to satiate that loneliness; the inevitability that one must acknowledge and accept when it comes to distance and the loneliness that it is bound to cause. This narrative of “distance”, after reading, does not seem so far away—it resonates and clings to the skin.
The last story of the collection, “The Voice You Throw, the Blow You Catch”, stood out the most to me because of its intimacy and its strangeness: “every new guy in the bar took a chance with LoAnn. From behind, she was a fox. The heart of her ass rested firm on the barstool, her body thick where it matters. The ventriloquist dummy never turned them off”—how those two things can be rendered on the same page, at the same time speaks to Snoek-Brown’s story telling abilities. At first I thought that this story was just another gimmick—a literary trick. But, as I continued to read and finish the story, I realized that we, the readers, are, symbolically the “dummys” in the sense that we do not, at times, take seriously the life that we have been given. That we look at the world as if it only has one answer, one way of being, of existing.
The complexity in these tiny stories is large and voracious and it swallows you and forces you to reckon with what can cut you, harm you, if you are not careful. Samuel Snoek-Brown, an Oregon Literary Fellow, will continue to amaze you and haunt you with his lyricism and critique of human nature. I look forward to reading his debut novel to see how he expands on his talent.
Box Cutters, by Samuel Snoek-Brown. Buffalo, New York: sunnyoutside. 32 pages. $12.00, paper.
Danny M. Hoey, Jr., is an Assistant Professor of English at Indian River State College. An Ohio native, he has a Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. His stories have appeared in WarpLand, Women in REDzine, Mandala Journal, Connotation Press, African Voices Magazine, among others. The Butterfly Lady, his first novel, won the ForeWord Firsts’ Winter 2013 debut fiction award.