Polgar’s writing is intelligent and this is evident across all nine of the short stories in the collection. His historical and socio-political knowledge is vast and attuned to the human condition; these stories explore the headiness of love, base human desire, our past and the way it defines us, fantasy and the future.
Not every story spoke to me, nor do they make grand statements about life and living. They are honestly human, even tediously at times. I soon drew parallels between Polgar’s Maurice with Fante’s Bandini or Salinger’s Holden (only a good few years older), as there are moments in all three writers’ works where as a reader you ponder the point of reading further; you are lost in the writer’s intelligence and undeniable ability to craft but you are yet to feel something. Despite this, you stay.
You stay because we are fascinated with human nature; with how normalcy is wrapped up in fantasy. Like Maurice, we imagine ourselves elsewhere or acting some way different, in a different time, whilst still trundling along with our, quite often, inconsequential lives. I believe writers who aren’t afraid to broach this are brave; with the wrong reader, these stories could very well fall flat on their face.
For me, a few did. But, the clever yet meandering structure of The Path of Least Time and Michelle’s storytelling in The Ballad of Argos Penitentiary reveal and celebrate Polgar’s talent, and make trusting the writer all the more worthwhile. Thus, this is not a book to easily assign a rating to; like all literary fiction, every reader will find and take away something different from these stories. At the end of the day, is that not the beauty of good storytelling?