by John Pringle

Spirals CoverThough it’s been some time since I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of Pringle’s short story collections, Spirals starts in a very familiar way, with his story, A Good Boy. Not only was this the only one in the collection that I’d read previously, it’s also a contest-winning story––the 2014 Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop writing contest, to be precise. This on its own would suggest that “A Good Boy” is a pretty good story, making it a great jumping-off point, but it’s also an excellent guide for what we’re in for, as it showcases what Pringle does best: thrusting us into Northwestern Ontario through vivid images, extracting lofty concepts from the seemingly mundane using realistic characters, all the while maintaining a great restraint in his storytelling.

And this is a very broad commonality between the stories I enjoyed throughout Spirals. The entirety of the collection involves character-driven narratives, and Pringle not only showcases a great empathy toward the people that populate his plots, but he also demonstrates an uncanny ability of expression, both bringing forth the heart from deep within the exchanges and triggering strong emotions from the reader––this one, at least.

The problem comes when the author isn’t able to bring together everything that makes something like “A Good Boy” extraordinary. When the characters don’t come alive for me, such as in “Hard Paddling;” when we get presented with an interesting concept, but it feels like we don’t get the chance to explore it, such as in “Fringe Idiots;” when we get engaging personalities, and we start to get a feel for the way they interact, but abandon them without experiencing their meaningful, growing relationship, that seems to get hinted at by the end of “Revelations,” it feels lacking. And then something comes along like “Without Consent”: it’s thoughtful, it’s well-paced, it’s populated with what feels like real people, and it’s satisfying. This is the fact that makes Spirals feel like an exercise in ups and downs. I’m not even going to suggest that the downs are particularly terrible––everything’s still competent at the end of it all. But, I think it’s more that, in being treated to such tremendous ups, the downs are simply more hard-felt.