About the bookEdit
Tom Saunders is the author of the outstanding collection of short stories, Brother, what strange place is this? Previous work has been published in the anthologies Pleasure Vessels and Voices from the Web.
Brother, What Strange Place Is This? is Tom Saunders’ first short story collection.
"From the pagan brutalities of a Welsh island at the time of the Armada in The Seal Man to the quest for redemption of an English jazz pianist in modern day Cuba in The Calle de Obra Pia, the stories explore the complexities of history and art and the twists and turns of the human journey.
Beautifully, often lyrically written, these stories reveal a keen and playful intelligence at work and all are executed with humour and compassion. The characters are, by turn, quirky, difficult, off beat and yet each is sympathetically rendered.
The title story Brother, What Strange Place Is This? examines the relationship between two brothers, one excited by the possibilities of the 20th century, the other, a classical composer, mad with remorse over the instincts he is unable to discipline or understand.
Review by GATOR SPRINGS GAZETTEEdit
This is a truly remarkable debut, both original and imaginative. Not just a book for lovers of finely crafted short stories, but for everyone interested in the art of writing and in literature itself." -- GATOR SPRINGS GAZETTE, a literary journal of the fictional persuasion.
Review by The Bodega Babe, Bodega Survey (reviewing Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios' All Story: Extra).Edit
"Tom Saunders' "Brother, What Strange Place is This" gave her rippling spine-shivers for whole giddy paragraphs": 'It was gone midday before the composer's older brother, Alaric, was called to the hospital. Wings of his long leather overcoat beating, he flew out of the gates of the Curzon Motor Bicycle Company astride the prototype of the twin-cylinder Rapide Senior, the burnished steel of its petrol tank mirroring an unburnished sky. Swerving around a cairn of manure, he cut between an omnibus and a brewer's dray, the nearest horse rolling the yellow of an eye and baring its teeth in the style of a bad Hamlet. As he cut the corner into Dartington Street fine rain slapped his face and the rear wheel scrubbed an S on the wet road. Drab in their off-duty clothes, a trio of whores turned from a shop window to watch him tame the machine and rip on in a blue haze.' -- The Bodega Babe, Bodega Survey (reviewing Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios' All Story: Extra).
Reviewer: Kathryn KoromilasEdit
It seems as if Tom Saunders has tuned into the deep dark secrets of our world, of happiness and sadness, and has articulated them in the stories collected in "Brother, what strange place is this?".
The title story with the brother Griffin jumping out of a window only to survive and end up in an institution for the insane addresses the title question in a emotional and philosophical way, but really, all the stories in this collection are studies of the same question.
"Aerobatics" is the one that most got to me, the one I can't forget: A father tells his daughter about the time, when he was a boy, that he came home from school to see to his mother crying, "breaking her heart". He explains that up until that moment he was happy and then "suddenly I was landed with this knowledge about my mother...I wasn't prepared for what I saw...I wasn't prepared for a world where that sort of sadness was possible."
You have to be prepared to read this collection. You won't be, of course. Like the little boy who is suddenly faced with the shock of his mother in tears, one can never be prepared to face the depth of the world's sadness (for the boy) or strangeness (for the brother, Griffin).
Yes, I recommend this collection of stories. Tom Saunders is a sensitive and intelligent writer who is concerned with the truth of the human condition.
Reviewer: Dr Ian HockingEdit
Oh Brother, Where Am I?
Brother, What Strange Place is This? Tom Saunders
Dr Ian Hocking
British author Tom Saunders was once an engineer, a school caretaker, a musician, a seller of guitars and records, and, not insignificantly, a graduate of the UEA's Creative Writing programme under Sir Malcolm Bradbury. From these experiences and with this pedigree comes the eclectic Brother, What Strange Place is This?, his debut collection of short fiction.
This book is a kaleidoscope with tumbling pieces as diverse as a shipwrecked Spaniard, a philosopher, and a vagrant. For the most part, a Saunders character finds himself coping as a stranger in a foreign land, if not physically - a trussed Africa-based reporter awaiting execution in 'Head' - then spiritually - a father belittled by his family in 'Aerobatics'. The rich backcloths of Havana, Vienna, and Germany turn up the volume on these unbalanced, often exiled characters, as though Saunders, twisting the kaleidoscope, is not satisfied with their intrinsic alienation.
One is tempted to view Saunders as a musician first and a writer second because the stories sing like fine crystal. This is not to say that a given tale lacks development, or character, or plot. 'The Prospect of Home', for example, is a wonderful piece that sees two young men, Gabriel and Francis, embark upon a mission to 'disappear' a political dissident of their mutual acquaintance. The story is electrically charged and the characters real: two unwilling, yet complicit murderers, without whom the dictatorships and informer-led societies would collapse into peace. And yet the most powerful element of this story is the music that plays beneath it.
Though there are no poetic pieces in this collection, the reader will observe that Saunders cannot let his stories go undernourished in poetic terms. A horse does not merely whinny, it 'rolls the yellow of an eye and bares its teeth in the style of a bad Hamlet' . A town is not just economically depressed, rather 'The big brass band of the easy buck had packed up and left forty years ago'. This is dense writing. At its best, he brings a pitch-perfect clarity to his thoughts, and thus to his readers'. But the writing is occasionally inscrutable. My perplexity at 'Not For What You Are', the somewhat turgid confession of a man who believes himself to be the reincarnation of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, is doubtless a combination of the high-octane prose and my ignorance of this figure (Google now informs me he was a Pre-Raphaelite painter). Indeed, Saunders will often demand a certain intelligence and world-weariness on the part of the reader in order that the unwritten part of his stories (sometimes the greater part) find its home. On occasion - such as the brief 'Sweetwater Gas and Unicorn' - the reader is left with a sense of frustration that a beautiful something has come and gone in an instant, whetting one's appetite without the follow-up of a good feed.
The title story, 'Brother…', describes the slow death of a composer, Griffin Curzon, who in 1913 attempts a suicide, survives, and is interned in a sanatorium. We bear witness to Griffin's physical and metaphorical descent through the eyes of his brother, an inventor called Alaric. Alaric receives the occasional letter from his Griffin, one of which reads:
Brother, What strange place is this? My keepers carried me here like a Samson in chains. A great man graced my room today and peered hard into my face as if he aspired to read in it some prophecy. One is tempted to conclude that Saunders has adopted the role of this damaged composer as he writes his cryptic messages - all twenty-one of them - and slips them out under the door of the writer's world to that of his reader. This analogy soon breaks, of course, because Saunders has not been driven mad by his inspection of the world. Saunders's head is clear. Perhaps, then, Saunders is the man who graces the rooms of his characters, aspiring to read some prophecy, a stenographer to people in faraway places.
Either way, this fine collection should prove thought-provoking and sad, musical and enervating. A kaleidoscope of lives, twisted but bright, and a worthy debut.
[Editor's note: Tom Saunders and Dr Ian Hocking are both published by the UKA Press]
Reviewer: Robert W. ArterEdit
After decades of minimalism, modernism, and postmodernism, and batty maunderings, Saunders' careful, credible storytelling is as an oasis to the parched mind. My own personal favorite in this varied collection, The Calle de Obra Pia, will sit you down on a piano bench next to a man who is hopelessly in love. You may like him--and this is true of all of Saunders' characters--or you may not, but I tell you that you will care about him, you will know him, you will very likely find in him yourself. And this is the truth that infects Saunders' stories, and draws the reader into them: he does not write about Everyman; instead, he continues to show us variations on the species. None is wholly good nor entirely sympathetic. Each is as imperfect, as yearning, and as capable of greatness in small spaces as are you, as am I.
This collection is clean air. Do yourself a favor.
Reviewer: John Griffiths (e-griff on UKA) Edit
Those of you who know me from UKA know I don't mince words, and I don't give praise where it's not due. Many 'reviews' (and we've all seen them on Amazon) can be from friends and luvvies. I admit I did the final edit and layout of this book for print, but I would NOT say the following unless I meant it: All the above is true, and more. Tom's work is unusual and rewarding and well worth reading. His attention to detail as an author is impressive, and the universes he creates are real. The book is an experience that will enrich you. (BTW, this is the only book so far I have been moved to recommend on UKAWiki)