Books and written words often convey a depth of feeling and perception that spoken words lack. Between the pages of a book, a reader can slip inside the narrator’s head and find out what he or she truly thinks, rather than what the public is normally allowed to see. In his collection of short stories, Gods & Angels, David Park explores the intricacies of human-to-human interactions, giving his reader a front row seat to his ideas and concerns.
Collections of short stories always remind me of my childhood read-aloud hours – not because short stories are childish (far from it), but because readers can take their time as they explore a book written in this style. Twenty year old me, much like six year old me, loves to listen and to read stories but does not always have the attention span to sit though a Ulysses length tome. The best part of a collection such as this is that each story – with its beginning, climax, and conclusion – is contained to no more than forty-five pages. This gives audience members the satisfaction of reading a story, but also the flexibility to do it in thirty minutes. It also offers the promise of exploring thirteen distinct worlds all in side one set of hard covers.
Starting his book without a preface, Park throws his reader directly into the worlds he created. However, he does give the audience two quotes to ponder before starting the compendium of tales; the first from the Bible, Genesis in particular, and the second from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Both of which grapple with the dichotomy of man, his beauty and capacity for divinity opposed with how he epitomizes utter uselessness. It is up to the individual to decide which sort of man (or woman) he (or she) will choose to be.
Park selected a topic to which every reader can relate: how we as humans interact with each other. His volume is filled with stories about children estranged from their parents, girls on prom night, partners going through separations – the famed Ferryman, who ushers souls across the River Styx, even makes an appearance. No matter the type of interaction, all of Park’s characters are trying to find a way to express themselves in a manner that will be understood by the world and people around them.
In his story, “The Strong Silent Type,” the author tells of a lonely high school girl who takes a manikin as her date to prom. The manikin, not the girl, leads the reader through this story. Park makes this inanimate object come to life to tell the tale so you can look at the lonesome girl through a different lens, the emotion rising off the pages as if they are palpable.
Our doll narrator states, “I want to apply words to her hurt like a salve as all the things I need to say course uncontrollably through my being…but no matter how hard I try, none can breach the sewn seam of my mouth.”
The manikin is just like us– wanting to say things that we cannot articulate. The author uses this metaphor to remind us that not knowing how to express yourself can, at times, feel like being physically barred from saying how you feel.
The overarching tone and question of the book are summed up quite simply: “There are so many things I should say but I don’t know how…” Quality person-to-person interaction is quickly becoming a pervasive problem, one rooted so deep in the human psyche that people have no idea how to talk to each other in meaningful ways.
But, maybe, people are finding ways to fix the problem. Park notes that sometimes ranting on a blog is used as a gateway to having a real conversation. However, in other instances the time spent between real conversations becomes a chasm too wide to cross – conversations come too late and cannot make up for all the time lost.
Through his work, Park wants to remind his readers that they have the power to communicate. Or, lest they forgot, he gives them a gentle reminder.