Tuesday, August 20, 2013

**Book review: Inside from the Outside: A Journey in Sudden Fiction, by Peter Baltensperger

(pb; 2013: microstory anthology)

From the back cover:

"Dealing with the basic elements that make us human, the short stories contained in Inside from the Outside represent explorations of various aspects of human nature in all its complexity and variety.  Author Peter Baltensperger has incorporated elements of experimental, surrealistic, and bizarre short fiction in the development of his themes."

Overall review:

Inside is not an anthology for mainstream genre readers looking for easy and obvious thrills; such readers may be disappointed  - underwhelmed or overwhelmed - by the sixty-four stand-alone, cerebral and symbol-laden vignettes and microstories in this collection.  The reason for this is that Baltensperger favors a psychologically-intense approach that loosely links these elements: the works Carl Jung and Sǿren Kierkegaard; nature appreciation; mirrors; circuses and parades; romance and sexuality; and (often) quiet reflective realizations.  

Normally, I wouldn't read such work - I'm largely a fiction-genre (crime, horror, etc.) junkie.  But Baltensperger's intriguing word pairings, his sublime and often poetic language and images, and skillful juggling of the aforementioned themes made Inside a wow-worthy anthology that stands out from others' mood-linked volumes that strive for such sublimations/realizations, but so often fall short.

Of course, not every piece in this sixty-four tale book completely thrilled me - a relative few felt superfluous, due to their too-similar elements which did little or nothing to further the concepts and emotions of preceding tales.  The occasional "lapse" tale is a given, of course (at least for this reader), in a collection with this many pieces, so it's a minor nit at worst.

Beyond that inevitable complaint, I found something - a character, a mating of choice words, an image - to enjoy in almost all of the mood stories represented here.  I should also note that this is a slow burn, read-a-few-tales-a-day work, a compilation to be read, analyzed and savored over a prolonged period of time.  (It took me two months to read this - a worthwhile endeavor, in my estimation.)

Worth owning, this - if you're looking for a romantic, cerebral and mood-suffusive anthology.

Standout stories:

1.)  "Through Disarticulations": Surreal, beautiful and romantic nature- and music-based piece.  Excellent.

2.)  "Snippets in a Hot Afternoon":  I especially enjoyed the effective, full-circle finish of this microstory.

3.)  "Equine Afternoons":  Dream-like microtale about a "woman with beautiful breasts", horses and squirrels.

4.)  "Dilemma for Rain":  Especially striking imagery in this one (e.g., "a herd of snails").

5.)  "Fusions and Diffusions":  A woman and an artist hook up.  Romantic, effective - I love the line: "Hunter took her to his apartment and painted a fragmented sentence for her, flashing colors splashed over a large canvass. . ."

6.)  "Under Uncertain Skies":  A storm brings together two carnival performers (a wolfman and a bearded lady).  Sweet work.

7.)  "Blind Eyes in a Dark Jungle":  Timely vignette about a shopping mall-traumatized woman.

8.)  "Rain Games":  Two temperamentally different brothers attend a party.  Effective, stripped-down tale of familial vengeance, in its various forms.

9.)  "By Fractured Continuations":  Effective mood piece about a woman wrestling with her sense of time and being.

10.)  "Whispers from the Rain":  Nighttime precipitation holds a special allure for a curious woman.  Sweet-toned offering.

11.)  "Spring Thaw":  Wintry thoughts negate a possible love match.

12.)  "Points of Diffusion":  A couple come together between corporate meetings and a placid lakeside.

13.)  "What Is and Can Be":  A man and woman conquer winter and  a mountain.

14.)  "For a Crescendo":  Music, insects and desire bring lovers together.

15.)  "Anatomy of a Treadmill Runner":  A runner goes through his circular routines.  The story structure reflects this.

16.)  "Inside a Puzzle":  An artist struggles to hold onto joyous moments.

17.)  "Parenthesis for a Liberation":  I love the images of this microtale, in which a fanciful woman exercises while her thoughts may or may not run wild.

18.)  "Tremolando for Rain":  Two lovers meet and celebrate during a rainstorm.  One of my favorite works in this collection.

19.)  "Performance Art in a Meadow":  A circus troupe perform and live their oddly relatable lives on a rainy day.

20.)  "Through Viscous Hours":  Gregory Bergman, a night-restless man, encounters a personalized source of terror while walking his dog.

21.)  "Going By Rivers":  Two lovers join each other on a river.  Romantic-effective work.

22.)  "Notes on a Journey":  A man revisits his hometown. Effective dovetail finish to this one.

23.)  "Dilemmas of Empty Spaces":  A woman ponders her strange sense of fulfillment, while nature works its own animalistic magic.