Friday, June 12, 2009

Review: "Into the Cellar" by Ajani Burrell

I'm reviewing this story because it was simul-subbed to Flash Fiction Online a few months ago, but went to Barrelhouse before we could get it winnowed.

I was disappointed--not in the story, but in the fact that someone beat us to it.

"Into the Cellar" is the story of a man backed into a corner, and his triumph over himself. The main character, also the narrator, is contemplating his young pregnant wife as she stands at the top of the stairs. He's pressured from all sides--by the coming baby, finances, lost hopes and dreams--and thinks the unthinkable.

The power of this piece is that it lays bare the very kind of thoughts that most people, at one time in their lives or another, have entertained but kept buried inside. If you've never been angry enough at someone to wish they were dead, or sad enough to wish you could die, or frightened enough to wish you were invincible, or desperate enough to contemplate desperate measures, then you're a better person than I am, and a better person than, I think, the majority of mankind.

In the news today we're hearing all kinds of stories of people who entertained and acted on such thoughts. This story is the story of a man who entertained, but resisted acting on such thoughts. He's not perfect. In fact, he's quite ordinary, less than ordinary actually. He's not even middle class--and maybe that's what makes readers uncomfortable in getting into his mind. Maybe the fact that some low-income blue-collar guy thinks the same way you do? Maybe the idea that he manages to overcome, when many in better circumstances than him can't?

In the end, the narrator is as much a hero as Hercules or King Arthur. A man who overcomes desperate circumstances, who holds back the darkness just long enough to conquer the foe--himself.

I applaud Ajani Burrell for a fine story.

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