2014-07-14

Review of Nathan Leslie's "Sibs"
—an editor's note by Ada Fetters


Nathan Leslie’s Sibs is a collection of short stories that revolve around sibling relationships. While there is a consistent dark undercurrent, the stories take place in widely varied settings and the tone ranges from barely controlled glee to deeply reserved.



Each of the stories can stand alone. None of the stories relies on the others around it to define it, such that each is a discrete object unto itself, much like the chess squares pictured on the cover. Sibs relies on the central theme to hold together.

The book's description gives you fair warning: these stories are "thematically intertwined." If you are looking for a cohesive “thesis” type of collection that carefully explains an overarching story, you will not find it here. Yet if you are looking for variety, for myriad different ways to explore the relationships between siblings, Leslie’s book may be for you.

Leslie does not make a habit of explaining his work, so whether he is writing a stark happening like “Southward Bound” or a surreal almost-faerie-tale like “The Beauty Mark,” reading his book is not a passive experience. Readers must move with him from setting to setting and tone to tone, but these stories are certainly worth the effort. The writing is vivid and engaging, beckoning readers on and casting a new light onto commonplace objects.

One of Leslie’s great strengths—what really makes these stories work—is his ability to write a startling variety of characters. Whether he writes of a drug-addled young man who drifts into a commune in “Joy Pasture” or an elderly woman whose pride and joy is the comfort of the guests at her bed-and-breakfast in “Let Me Go,” his characters are believable.

Leslie writes with empathy that gives each character their own legitimate viewpoint. This ability effectively gives readers a glimpse into the worlds of the characters. Sure, you might judge the heavyset eleven-fingered prostitute in “The Mellow,” or the obsessive-compulsive Elvi in “Backsliding,” but Leslie himself will not tell you what to think of them. He will expertly slip the lenses of the characters over your eyes, distortions and all, and let you figure it out.

Though the stories often end on a hopeful note, with a glimmer of better things for the characters, these are not sugary-sweet tales. The characters’ goals are as different as they are, so better is relative. It might mean escape from an abusive pimp or embracing a black-sheep relative, but it might also mean hiring a half-brother to whack an abusive ex or embracing the rampant commercialism of a new decade.

Leslie will present you with a peanut, olive, pickle and pretzel casserole (“Lists”) – but you supply the reaction.

Sibs can be found on Amazon.com, or Aqueous Books and you can find Nathan Leslie's website at  http://www.nathanleslie.com/
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Nathan Leslie is the author of six books of short fiction, one book of poetry and editor of two anthologies. He is the fiction editor for Pedestal Magazine and was the series editor for Best of the Web. He lives in Northern Virginia and teaches at Northern Virginia Community College.  

The Editor, Ada Fetters, has been published in Copperwood Review, Humanist Magazine, Niche, The Journal of Humanistic Psychology, and has poems scheduled for publication in Poetry Pacific Magazine.  

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