‘Lands and Forests’ leaves the reader with tales from new acquaintances

Lands and Forests
Andrew Forbes, 217 pgs, Invisible Publishing, invisiblepublishing.com, $19.95

Beautifully flawed characters negotiate tension-fuelled relationships in strangely familiar scenarios. This is Andrew Forbes’s second short-story collection, which invites readers to listen to poignant literary stories rooted in reality. Beyond the emotional resonance of the characters and their situations, the real draw-in is Forbes’s soft, poetic prose, which intertwines crisp imagery with creative, delicate use of language. For example, in the title story, he writes, “The choking smell of hot resin and smoke and scorched lumber and superheated stone, the hiss of embers falling into the water, the red pall thrown over everything he could see, the sky gone orange at midnight, the magnitude of it.”

Not the title story, but another piece sticks to ribs more than others, leaving after taste of philosophical thought to digest. Particularly “Inundation Day,” a historical story that begins in 1958, using the St. Lawrence Seaway flooding as a backdrop. The male protagonist, Holland, and the community of Loucksville grapple with a tough choice: either take the government’s money and move a home to a new site, or burn it down, or move away entirely and consider Inundation Day an opportunity for something new. “Silently, in the bluster of an autumn afternoon, a freighter slipping west, loaded perhaps with ore, on its steady way to Duluth, or to Detroit, there to be made into something new,” Forbes writes.

Literal and metaphorical fires alight characters and landscapes in Lands and Forests, fleshing out flaws, driving wedges between relationships — most notably those of heated, crestfallen men. Alcoholism and nicotine addiction are used like crutches to emphasize a sense of character mortality; while cliché at times, Forbes gets away with it using them as props versus central themes. That aside, there is an ocean of depth to Forbes’ characters, leaving the reader with tales from new acquaintances — friends even. (Zachery Cooper)