“Book Review: A Little Chatter”
Reviewed by Joshua Ryan Bligh
A Little Chatter provides slices of life with surgical precision, creating a powerful sense of place and person
Terry Connell’s short story collection, A Little Chatter, is one of the most aptly named collections I have come across. Its dozen stories play out as the snippets of conversations heard while peoplewatching on a park bench. The stories are not empowered speeches or dazzling feats of elocution, but they are instead the background noise of life; Connell pulls a magician’s trick by revealing that these conversations are much more meaningful when plucked out from the dull roar and examined more closely.
Connell’s prose is the eye of the storm. It is where order meets the flawless execution of description, place, and character. While you are in his stories, there is a sense of being enveloped in the scenes as he creates a snippet of life that feels absolutely real while you are in it. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this collection, whether intentional or not, is its gentle yet overwhelming critique of capitalist consumerism. His stories show, with a heartfelt authenticity, that individuals who have either been failed by the system or “failed” to integrate into it have an internal world as rich as the most successful intellectual, which is a particularly stringent brand of optimism and a message much needed by many. Instead of viewing these individuals as shallow or incomplete, they are utterly full of life, even if that life is gripped with insecurity and confusion.
What a reader must be aware of in this collection, though it may not look it, is a bit experimental. Readers who want more traditional aspects of structure or narrative progression may find the work truncated. Stories end right as you become invested in the characters, and you never get to see how they ultimately deal with the pressures of their life. However, what we are provided is a rich empathy for them, a testament to Connell’s deep understanding of humanity, and so we can surmise what their future actions might hold. But you will not see this future. For A Little Chatter never sets that as its goal, instead working to show the treasure of personality hidden within ostensibly mundane lives, which it accomplishes with compassionate skill.
My sole critique is an odd one that I cannot sort if it is personal preference or genuine. The repeated inclusion of hangovers, joints, and booze bring a sense of details as props that blur the freshness of each story. Yes, these are often ubiquitous to human experience, but from a narrative standpoint, they seem to act as a thread between stories that do more to un-differentiate characters than it does to provide a means of tying them together.
I don’t read many stories that are structured like this, but that didn’t stop me from being thoroughly impressed by it. This successfully truncated approach is a testament to the prowess of Connell’s prose. A Little Chatter does what it sets out to do, and the thoughts it provokes are ultimately ones of empathy, which is a significant accomplishment for any work. Oh, and the story called “A Man’s Life” shines brightest, so if you pick up this collection, make sure to keep an eye out for this one.
Paperback: 119 pages
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