By R. W. Gray

R. W. Gray is a writer determined to avoid convention, one whose stories both intrigue and occasionally push the reader away. They are impossible to classify in terms of genre, and are set in a slightly off-kilter reality that reflects our own only in a distorted way and through obscure language and images.

The experience is like witnessing a performance of experimental theatre or cinema. In the first story in Entropic, his second collection, a couple have a secret room with a special light box that allows them to edit their own lives as though it were a film. Elsewhere we meet a beautiful man who stages his own unconscious coupling, an actress portraying patients in a training program for med students, and a man who films himself sleeping until he’s “watching his life like it’s a TV show.”

A handful of motifs are touched upon: the uncanniness of beauty; dreaming and sleep; the middle-age desire to do one’s life over again; and perhaps most of all a feeling of being buried or submerged. Even in the middle of the desert a character “drowns” in sleep, which is a process that leads to the revelation of another world time and again in these stories. These motifs weave together, and for such a varied collection there’s a strong if subtle sense of unity.

The most successful stories are those that remain tied to everyday experience; when Gray wanders deeper into the field of fantasy, as in the story “Sinai,” he becomes less accessible. The same can be said of the writing, which can be strained and remote but also evocative and poetic. The end of the final story, “Mirrorball,” is a nice example of the latter, using sound and rhythm to create a hypnotic susurrus of sleeping nature that rounds the story of a duo of doppelgangers to a dreamy conclusion.

In short, it’s an uneven collection. But when Gray is good he’s very good, his modern parables peeling off layers of convention to get at universal subconscious truths, submerged archetypes and emotions.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, July 2015.

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