In his second collection, on a distant ridgeline, Sam Reese creates twelve vivid and tenderly drawn tales with moments and memories that linger just out of reach.
Between the past and present and potential reconciliations—and with a keen eye on the subtle balance of human connection—relationships and their fractured qualities are central to this new gathering of stories.
If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ll have noticed that short stories rarely feature in my reviews. This isn’t because I don’t read them, although I do read considerably fewer short stories than novels in the average year. But although I very much enjoy reading the stories featured in my copy of Mslexia magazine, or in The New Yorker, I find the process of reading, digesting, and then ‘ reviewing’ a short story to be quite tricky. Although short in format, the literary short story usually gives you a lot to digest.
This is certainly the case with Sam Reese’s second collection, on a distant ridgeline, which features twelve beautifully constructed stories that, though not lengthy in their word count (the whole collection is a slender 180 pages), certainly provide plenty for the reader to mull over and consider.
From a tale of two brothers finding their feet in a new environment to a sinister story of a young girl, her mother, and the compulsions that bind them, on a distant ridgeline is a wide-ranging collection and each of the stories can, at first, seem somewhat disparate from those around them. Read the whole collection however and you’ll begin to pick out strands of connection – tiny moments and fragments from each tale that resonate with wider ideas about human intimacy, tenderness, and the almost insignificant moments upon which momentous decisions can hang.
As with many literary short stories, much of the pleasure to be had from on a distant ridgeline is in the language, the imagery, and experience of reading. This is a collection best savoured slowly, allowing for each story to sink in before moving on to the next. Whilst there are certainly moments of tension, drama, and character-propelled action, what the stories often gave me was a sense of a snapshot – a fragmentary and fleeting glimpse into a moment, or a relationship, or a person.
If you’re not already a fan of the literary short story, I don’t think on a distant ridgeline is likely to convert you. The collection contains many of the hallmarks of the genre; from the understated yet measured observations of small details to the wider expansiveness of connecting themes and concepts, it’s a collection that does make the reader do some work to join the dots and tease out a sense of meaning. For those who enjoy stories that offer quiet power and elegant prose, however, on a distant ridgeline is cleverly constructed, lyrically rendered, and resonates after the final page has been turned.
About the Author
“Short stories are at their most interesting, I think, when they avoid just a single meaning. This is why I direct my own writing out towards the darkness and the shadows—why my characters obsess over, dream of, are haunted by feeling and memories that they do not completely understand.”
Hailing from Aotearoa, Sam Reese is an insatiable traveller and award-winning critic, short story writer, and teacher. His first collection of stories, Come the Tide, was published by Platypus Press in 2019. A widely respected literary and music critic, his study of The Short Story in Midcentury America won the 2018 Arthur Miller Centre First Book Prize. Currently a lecturer in Creative Writing at York St John University, Sam formerly taught at the University of Sydney, where his inspirational teaching was recognised with an Excellence award. More details can be found on Sam’s website: https://svhreese.com/stories and by following him on Twitter: @svhreese
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My thanks go to the publisher and to Isabelle Kenyon for providing an copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.
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