Tuesday, June 4, 2013

But For the Kindness of Children

First Paragraph:

"The bench felt cold and damp beneath his thighs. His tattered coat only just reached around his stomach if he breathed in and pulled. It missed a button or two. He watched the leaves curl beneath his feet, a sea of vibrant reds and ochres. The wind caught his face and whipped through his hair, rolling through the trees and under the children skipping along the path. The church bell chimed eleven. It always chimed one number short of the hour, before a long pause and a final strike. It rang with gusto, threatening to take the steeple with it. Cars hooted from the road beyond the park- beyond its railings skirting the perimeter- reminding him of days in the city. He tried not to think for too long about his hours in that God-forsaken place. It pained him to recall the sacrifices he had made, and for what?"

The Bench by F.C. Malby is a remarkably short story (in more ways than one).

Sitting on a bench in a park, we meet Bill (though his name isn't important). An old man, weary from the trials of life, he sits and watches as the world goes by without him.

One day, a little girl greets him, one who is very astute and mature for her age. She teaches him some simple life lessons, through very simple, yet quite profound ways. 

A very quick read (at only 5 pages), but meaningful nonetheless. There's very little I can say without spoiling anything. The story is so short, it's almost over before it's even begun. 

There are some interesting conversations and concepts present, all met by a very sudden end. It leaves you with the beginnings of hollowness, but there just isn't enough familiarity for it to be anything more than a slight tug. I will say this, because the story is so abrupt in its end, the message and consequential ending that it creates, gain more strength and depth the longer it's been since you finished the story. In other words, it can take a little time to sink in, but the story only gets better with it.

On another topic: the little girl's lessons only work because of her age. If she had been older, they could've seemed pretentious and condescending, though imaginative. As it is, her age makes both her personality and her lessons sweet, innocent and kind, yet very mature and surprisingly eerie, as well as showing her awareness of the world around her. 

If you are someone who likes all the questions answered and all the strings tied up in a pretty bow, this may not be for you. There is just enough description and just the right amount of information and hints given, to understand the story, but nothing more. Most of it is left pretty ambiguous, and for good reason. This story would not work anywhere near as well, if we had all the answers. It would be more mundane and less universal. This is minimalist writing at its best.

There are only really two characters in this story, and yes they are both given names, but those names are largely irrelevant. They are outlines of people, allowing many different characters to fit in their places. The answers (especially to the ending) are all debatable and up for interpretation. The 'who', the 'why', the 'what' are never given solid form, and it's down to the reader to imagine.

An interesting read, that is a good example of why quality is more often than not, better than quantity.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

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