Rick Watson – review for “All the Lights That Have Shone”

Review by Rick Watson, Associate Poet Laureate of North Dakota, author of The Lost Colony

You get tricked by these stories, by the voices; by the way the sentences deliver themselves to your eyes, and ears. Someone is talking, someone you feel like you know, someone who is certainly not a threat, and suddenly you find yourself sitting with that someone, one of Paul’s people, in a nondescript caf�, a caf� that is interesting for its nothingness; and you are privy to Paul’s character– the character has a nice friendly, nonthreatening (which means very threatening) job interview with You Know Who. No midnight, no cross roads, no fiddles contest, and no debates, just a relaxed interview. The devil in the details turns out to be a kind of pot bellied, slightly sagging, management guy, and not a guy for Goldman Sachs or ENRON, but a guy from a piddling brown paper bag corporation.

And that’s the way life happens in these stories. Just enough details that you can enter these little worlds for short but funny, sometimes frightening, always human visits to places and people who seem a bit out of focus, a little too mundane, somewhat forced in their causality, and thus, very real. Our story teller holds up a mirror, we look in the mirror and say, “How normal, how droll, how odd, how much of this honesty can I take?” and luckily, the story ends and we are not trapped. OR are we? We are allowed to go on with life. OR are we?

The reality is not subjective. It is more likely that reality is refracted, reflected, and re-shaped. So we see the everyday as the strange thing the everyday is, and we see the tragic or horrific as the rather normal thing it can become, and we wonder. And the lovely thing about this writer’s people and places is that any meaning arises from the apparently effortless, obviously devious way these words are strung together.

I won’t call him a comic writer, an absurdist, and I will not use the phrase “black humor”. He writes too well and works too hard to be typed. But I will deliver this compliment, which I have considered for several months, even years. IF Haruki Murakami, Phil Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, and a North Dakota born and bred woman shared an off spring, and that offspring was a writer, his name might be Paul McCormack.

All those stories seem to verbalize a reality, in such an everyday understated way, and then they leap into a numinous, spooky world where spirit. Karma, Law and God go to work without being named–love the myth, the folksiness, love them all. This is not just Paul’s world; it is the world we inhabit. How can he know these things?

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