Deep Empathy from a Small Novella | Review of “The Sky Was Copper Blue” by Zack Metcalfe (2016) Iguana Books

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Literature works wells when it brings to light a universal thought or emotion that we all have yet never have considered. A story should cause a reader to ponder and reflect on that emotion, then use it as a catalyst for discussions with friends, family, audiences, etc. That has been the hallmark of many great pieces of literature and that is the formula that Zack Metcalfe has used for his novella The Sky Was Copper Blue.

Page 2-3

Madelyn adored this slice of wilderness, even now before the sun had given it colour and charm. The forest was quiet, every sensible living thing still asleep, and in spite of her thick clothing, Madelyn was cold. For a fleeting moment, thoughts of her warm bed returned to her.

The sun was fast approaching the horizon, and with it came a symphony of birds. They began timidly at first, taking turns shyly breaking the silence, but soon broke out into a full-hearted chorus.  With renewed enthusiasm, she opened her Tupperware container and withdrew her digital camera. It felt strange to bring her equipment out here, but the heft of the camera was comfortable and familiar in her hands. Placing the camera’s strap around her neck she then withdrew her tripod, set it up and attached it to the base of her camera.

The sun broke the horizon and bathed the forest in red and yellow light. Golden hour had begun.

Madelyn remained very still as he scanned her surroundings. With patient fingers she played with the settings of her camera and toyed with her lens’ manual focus, framing the fleeting beauty of the early morning in its viewfinder. Then she took a shot.

Metcalfe has enveloped a unique range of human emotions into his story of Madelyn Hathaway. Readers can easily relate to her fatigue of her job photographing weddings, birthdays and political protests. But even more so, readers can empathize with Madelyn going out into environment and exploring the natural beauty that exists in the world. And most definitely, readers can relate to Madelyn’s thrill and excitement when she finds something thought lost to history in her exploration of nature.

Page 28-29

The kitchen table had become a lab desk, a place of clinical observation which Terrance and Madelyn didn’t dare disturb. Instead they began to cook, preparing the promised stir-fry without a word between them. Only the sizzling of veggies and the ruble of boiling noodles combated the silence. The food was ready and scooped onto plates when Joan began crying softly in front of the computer Roger’s eyes were red too, but he wore a wide smile.

Food was brought to the table and Madelyn pointed Terrance in the direction of the wine bottles. One was uncorked and four glasses were produced.

“Who…” Joan began, struggling with the words, “… who sent these to you , Terrance?”

Terrance stopped in the act of pouring the wine and looked up.

“No one, Joan. Madelyn took them.”

Now Joan turned to Madelyn, who had just sat down. In her eyes was surprise and gratitude, perhaps even adoration.

“Madelyn … you saw these birds?”

“Just yesterday.”

“And you had a camera with you?” Joan closed her eyes and shook her head, embarrassed. “Oh, you’re a photographer, damn it. Of course you had a camera, I remember Terrance mentioning that. I’m sorry. I’m flustered. Do you remember where they were?”

“Yeah, they’re in the park behind the house. I can show you…”

But Joan’s lip had begun to quiver.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m making a perfect fool of myself.”

Terrance laughed sympathetically.

“Joan,” he said. “Don’t worry. If that’s the case, you’re among fools.”

While Metcalfe may have included his knowledge of environmental issues in this story, it is his passion and his personal feelings that make this story so profound. Yes, the plot includes facts and concerns that stick in the reader’s mind as they read the book but it is the emotions, desires and passions of the characters that breed empathy with reader, causing the story to be a memorable one.

Page 42-43

“What made you go out there?” asked Terrance, lying on his side and looking toward Madelyn. They were only black outline to each other in the dark room.

“It started the day I brought Joan out to see the pigeons,” said Madelyn. “I started to feel like … if I wasn’t trying to save the species then what was the point? I knew that couldn’t happen unless I found some more of them and so I went looking. I guess I felt helpless. A little stupid too.”

“Now how do you feel?”

“Scared. We’re so close to doing something important and I’m scared we’re going to screw it up. Or maybe I’m scared other people won’t care enough to do something about it. I don’t know. I’m a little out of my depth with this stuff.”

Zack Metcalfe has used a great deal of personal passion in his novella The Sky Was Copper Blue and it shows. The book has all the hallmarks of a good piece of literature including breeding empathy into a reader about an element of the human condition. Well worth reading.

*****

Link to my Q&A with Zack Metcalfe – “Above all I want readers to go outside, so embrace the natural world in whatever way they see fit, and to know that what’s in front of them pales in comparison to centuries past”

Link to Iguana Books website for The Sky Was Copper Blue

 

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