“Memories are a peculiar aspect of the human brain. They conjure up images, odors and sounds. Sometimes Craig Dunsmore felt able to reach out and touch them as they visited the entire range of his senses. There was one memory that never left him—the smell of the earth after it rains.”
After it Rains, by former CFCF/CTV news anchor Bill Haugland, is a collection of short stories of various lengths, various locations, and various characters. From young to old, from men to women, and from writers to convicted murderers, Haugland manages to represent a broad segment of society, all in less than 200 pages.
Stories of note include “The Photograph,” about a man trying to find the former owner of a photograph of his mother that he found in a shop. The story itself is fine, with lengthy exposition provided by another character, but by the end felt as if it weren’t finished. It leaves more questions than answers, leaving the reader to come up with the rest of the story. Another story to note is “A Confession,” which is exactly what it says in the title: it is a short but twisted journey through the reasoning of a murderer that evokes shades of Camus’ The Just Assassins.
The eponymous story is about a blind boy, who may or may not have the supernatural talent of sight (does he? Read to find out…) , yet I don’t find it to be the star story in the collection. Such a title, I believe, goes to the story “Loss,” about a father who learns that his son has died in an accident and must go to identify the body. The story seems more real than the others, with the main character, the father, Derek, going through a palpable grief. The nightmare Derek has towards the end of the story is well-written, too, with its horrific imagery described in a small amount of words. As a side note, this story could also be based from life; Haugland’s son died in an accident a few years ago.
Most of the stories are well-written, simple, and unpretentious. There is still some “news report” quality to the prose, in particular the dialogue. There are also some problems with individual stories, in particular the endings. One has the “it was all a (day)dream” ending, which is disappointing and frustrating after reading a whole story about a character carrying out a certain plan, a deus-ex-machina ending to another which seems almost a forced happy ending after the initial setup of the story. Faulty typography also seems to be an issue: among other problems, there are no spaces after commas or periods, lack of capitalization after sentences, and extra spaces between words which detracts from the aesthetic appearance of the book and disrupts the flow of the story (for me, at least). Still, the diversity of characters — and the questions raised as the characters go about their lives — make this book in this book worth a read.
After it Rains by Bill Haughland is available from Véhicule Press. $18.