Review: Attemptations, by Kim Clark

>>Published: September 2011

>>Finally got around to it: January 2012

The shot startles me. I turn automatically. Start running back. I’m thinking, if she isn’t dead, the second blast could be for me, for what I have that she doesn’t.

I wish I had not gone back. I wish I could remember her the way she was when I first laid eyes on her, sitting in the spring sun, thin straps, bathed in yellow. She was waiting for me, the first blast a fading echo as I rounded the shed. She placed the pistol in her mouth. Slowly squeezed the trigger. Everything out of sight and out of reach.

***

Attemptations, the first book of short fiction from BC’s Kim Clark, is a darkly comic collection of nine economical and often melancholy stories. Using a loose, length-driven hierarchy, Attemptations quickly builds from short stories of only a few pages, to a pair of almost novella-length narratives to close out the collection.

With a punctuated style and tone similar to Carolyn Black’s The Odious Child, Kim Clark’s stories offer up a darker slice of individuality. Her characters are universally flawed, often with physical manifestations to their idiosyncrasies. Often times employing an extraneous narrative mechanic (barbeque instructions, medical terminology, and repetitive—and manipulative—nomenclature), the stories in Attemptations are quite deliberately structured; Clark’s writing is organized and neat, leaving little to chance, as noted in the lovely play on words detailed in the final sentence of the passage quoted at the start of this review—taken from the third tale in the collection, “Mr. Everything.”

Though Attemptations starts strong (the aforementioned “Mr. Everything” is an early standout), it stumbles a bit in its middle section with a trio of stories—“Lucky Strike”, “Flickering”, and “Tangled Threads”—that are unfortunately bereft of strong characters or intriguing premises.

Following the slower-than-desired mid-section, the collection rebounds with “Aphylaxis”, and then hits its stride with the two longest pieces: “Solitaire” and “Six Degrees of Altered Sensation.” The latter, in particular, is the last strongest piece in the collection. The protagonist, Mel, who is suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, is witty, acerbic, and at times manically focused around the number six—six being her placement on the Kurtzke Expanded Disability Status Scale, the number of fingers on one hand of Marvin, a man she’s attracted to, and the number of orgasms she’s expected to have before she loses all sensation to her disability. In Mel’s own words:

Again, I ready myself—get a little dolled up. Between hair and makeup, I text the mystery texter with three quick before-I-change-my-mind messages, allowing for slightly more honesty than I can muster with friends, acquaintances, or medical professionals.

  • recruiting volunteers to have sex with hot disabled chick
  • position open immediately
  • sliding pay scale

Attemptations is a strong first collection for Kim Clark. Though some of the stories lack the polish of the first few and of the two novella-length narratives, the quality of this collection is readily apparent.

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