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Remember having one of those? Neither do we. 

"Collective Gravities," by Chloe N. Clark is reviewed by Middle House Review Co-Editor,  Rebecca Lorenzo.

 

 

"If you’re looking for a thought-provoking collection of speculative fiction, Chloe Clark’s Collective Gravities could be your next read. In the collection, Clark traverses many of the typical arenas of speculative fiction such as space or parallel/inverse universes in “Like the Desert Dark,” but she does so in a way that is uniquely her own. In each chapter, a new story takes shape and distinct characters with notable voices take us through some of the rules of each tightly contained universe. While some stories are longer than others, Clark consistently, and purposefully, leaves her readers with more questions than answers. Throughout, Clark cleverly plays around with the boundaries of speculative fiction, with some stories bordering on realism at moments, so as to encourage readers to question the confines of the genre and the unexplained phenomena in their own existence.

Adding to this experience are the various thematic similarities that Clark utilizes throughout her myriad chapters. Clark’s stories examine time, sibling relationships, love and romance, signs and lack thereof, mental health, and other topics that are familiar to many readers.  At the same time, the speculative nature of each story masterfully disorients the reader so that they have little choice but to be drawn to these themes, for the sake of comfort in familiarity. One of Clark’s most innovative stories, “Thematic Cartography,” for instance, metaphorically represents each person’s life as a chart and the reader, struggling for an anchor, finds it in musing of death and the hope in imagining that “this chart might never end” (110).

Taken together, the collection effectively jars readers, uncomfortably making them face the very things that they may look to escape in a book with hard-hitting endings such as the one in “In Assorted Colors”: “I wrote Miss Him, happy to have something on the list I might be able to cross off” (68).  As in the collection’s titular story, “The Collective Gravity of Stars,” the reader experiences the world shifting beneath their feet. Nonetheless, the distance between the worlds Clark creates in just a few pages and the readers’ own provides a sort of safety through which readers can experience this dissonance or miscalibration. Moreover, the open-ended nature of each chapter mimics the unknowability of death and the incoherence of loss, both of which figure prominently in the stories as well.

Some chapters, such as “These Arms of Yours” and “See Sky Sea Sky,” contain snapshots of universes that the reader might never fully comprehend, and others reach across chapters in the collection with Clark’s thematic choices and tonal consistency. The set-up of the collection might fall short for some, as the continued lack of closure and resolution may leave readers staring at the last page of each chapter in dismay. Still, the themes of the collection are interspersed throughout so intricately that, even as plot resolution is rarely achieved, the insights offered by each story toward these themes may facilitate personal resolutions. Overall, the fairly balanced combination of pithy glimpses to other worlds alongside stories and insightful phrases that stick makes this collection weigh on the reader in a way that is evocative of its title."

 

- Rebecca Lorenzo