We were happy to publish John Cravens’ story “Last September” in Blue Lake Review some years back. And, we were also happy to learn that John had included that story in his new story collection The Quality of Promises.
The characters in The Quality of Promises are not people who take life or life’s challenges lightly, but, instead, wrestle mightily with the events that have occurred to upend their lives.
These are not always minor or ordinary problems that the people in The Quality of Promises are faced with. There are, indeed, in the pages of this book, major, life changing events that have hit some of these characters, sometimes without warning, head on, with no chance to look away. Like the loss of a child to suicide or war, or both (like the characters in “Grief” and “Silhouettes”).
But there are also inconvenient deaths, like the inconvenient suicides of strangers in the motel room next to a couple while on a previously pleasant vacation (“Present Clarity”) or, on another vacation, witnessing the death of a bicyclist in a motor vehicle accident (“Breathing In”). In such cases, the characters’ attempts to escape their current lives for brief respites are colored by the inevitable fate we all must face. And there is a tragic death as the result of infidelities committed by two married people at a motel in plain view of a small community.
War, travel, mental instability (“The Casual Lines of Chance,” and “Rock and Roll and Samuel L. Jackson”), infidelity, and staring death in the face are themes that repeat themselves throughout these stories. In “A Dead Language” a man sits in a park with a gun in his pocket, contemplating ending it all.
In some of these stories couples travel in an attempt not to escape the tragic events of the recent past, but to return to their lives before such events occurred, only to realize there is no going back, they cannot escape the circumstances of their own lives, and that now their lives will be changed forever.
And sometimes there is no escaping losses that have affected characters who fallen off the ledge into madness and despair.
There are stories here focusing on the devastating effects of war, like the suicide of a young man after he returns from war, and attempts by veterans to dissuade a possible new recruit, after a hunting mishap, from enlisting based on his naive views of what joining the military is all about (“Last September”).
This is a book in which the author does not shy away from dealing with issues of life and death, the sometimes unexpected, unalterable events that affect our lives forever, and our own mortality.
The collection is colored with shades of Hemingway, with the author’s serious contemplation of war and death often set in locations abroad. It is an intense read, a book well worth reading, mulling over, and reading again. We highly recommend The Quality of Promises to all readers of serious fiction. You can find it here at Amazon.
We were greatly saddened to learn that John suddenly passed away last week.
Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family, friends, and all that knew
and loved him.