The Life of Polycrates and Other Stories for Antiquated Children by Brendan Connell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Full Disclosure: I co-wrote the story "The Search for Savino," which appears in this collection, with Brendan. I will refrain from any comments regarding the story.
Connell's collection, The Life of Polycrates & Other stories for Antiquated Children has strong roots in the decadent French writings and Symbolist writings of the 19th Century. These stories are biographical sketches-cum-stories of individuals who descend into decadence. They all start off with differing degrees of affluence, social acceptability, and sanity, but every one of them seems to dive headlong into the most banal lows of moral turpitude.
Brilliantly written, each story is a lesson in the writer's craft. At turns languid and shocking, Connell clearly has a deft hand for word-painting, with a special talent for understatement and the perfect turn-of-phrase.
Intentionally or not, some of the stories come off as emotionally suppressed, while others show an almost manic expression of emotion. Perhaps the occasional feelings of emotional flatness result from the work required on the part of the reader to dig the plot from underneath the documents, letters, conversations, and narrations that compose each story. This is not casual reading, but it is absolutely immersive, if the reader takes the time to slow down and absorb the litany of information inferred by context and the subtle nuances of dialogue that hide meaning between the lines.
To me, the most satisfying story was "The Chymical Wedding of Des Esseintes," perhaps because it struck me with the most direct terror, whereas the other stories festered "under the skin," so to speak. Overall, this is a brilliant collection, but not an easy read. Recommended to those for whom plot is secondary and the careful crafting of language is a spectator sport not to be missed.
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