The Short Sides of Dealing with Change | Review of “Aquarium” by Mike Barnes (1999) The Porcupine’s Quill

Any sort of change in one’s life – be it controlled or thrust upon a person unexpectedly – can be difficult to deal with. But it is an important aspect of the human condition and any writer that tries to talk about it in their work is helping a reader consider the changes in their own lives. And that is what Mike Barnes has done in his collection of short stories called Aquarium.

Page 29 The Leading Edge

What the artist had  said changed things, there was no doubt about that. I had been looking at a bunch of backs and necks and haircuts, but now I had to imagine that I was about to meet some people. Movement came into the equation. It was almost a sound I could hear; like the shifting of a theatre audience in the dark, only quitter. Like the tissuey whisper of the angel wings in the Old Master room upstairs, when it was just you and the oil paintings, near closing time.

Barnes is gifted with his use of words. (Link to my review of his book of poetry “Calm Jazz Sea.) His descriptions filled the reader’s mind with images that are clear and concise. And the  settings he uses could fit into anyone’s life.

Page 94 – Sky Candy

I scan the limitless horizon. Stars glimmer in places through the cloud, like water droplets on a vast net. As long as I don’t focus on any reference point for long, I am free to jump, to fly, towards the thin crust separating earth from sky. I feel my body lightening, draining its mass from my feet upwards. And then . . .

That tug. It is always exciting.

These stories have a kind of ‘deja-vous’ to them – a familiar feeling that isn’t quite clear. They are profound, universal yet unique. And quite the pleasure to read.

Page 115  – In Florida

In the night, les woke to the sound of Nan crying. Opening his eyes he saw light leaking around the top and bottom of the bathroom door. It was where she usually went. She would be sitting on the toilet, a Kleenex held under her nose and others bunched in the hand resting, palm up, in her lap. He had only opened the door once, but the picture had branded him, its details seared across some tough hide in his consciousness.

He raised himself to a sitting position and put the pillow behind him. He switched on the bedside lamp and opened his Le Carré novel. The words swam and blurred; he was too tired to read. He stared at the lighted rectangle; when he heard the water run he narrowed his gaze. It was what she wanted from him. Not a hug, not comforting words, but the knowledge that he was similarly afflicted. That whatever was keeping her up had attacked him too. He listened. He sniffling was faint and steady.

Aquarium by Mike Barnes is a powerful collection of stories. Profound and emotional, it is a read that enlightens a dark corner of the human condition. Hopefully Barnes will continue writing in the future.

Link to The Porcupine’s Quill’s page for “Aquarium”




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