Your Smallest Bones

There is a technique for relief from headache or muscle pain I learned years and years ago in an acting class. The sufferer rests on his back, eyes closed and considers the pain. At first, it is a huge wash that covers the body in a blanket studded with nails, but then the mind narrows and narrows the pain down to one small prick point of its source. Once that place is discovered, imagine it is no longer there; make it disappear. Such is the process of a writer, save for one rather critical difference: That source point of pain does not disappear, instead it is lifted as carefully as a hummingbird’s egg and laid softly on a page.

Any idiot can come up with a plot, a story idea. Drunks and stoners, children too, are exceptionally good at plots. ‘So this dinosaur is hanging up its laundry when…’ There is absolutely no art in conjuring up a story, merely craftsmanship. Even the dullest of us live at least a dozen potential stories a week but the vast majority of us do not recognize the stories within our lives. Sean Taylor does and that is why he is a goddamn great writer.

Your Smallest Bones is a collection of twelve short stories and their quality is such that any blithering boob who asks, ‘When’s he going to write a novel?,’ should have this paperback shoved straight down his throat like an apple in a roasted pig. Would I like to read a novel by Taylor? Oh hell yeah. Does it make him any less a goddamn great writer that these are short stories? Oh hell no.

The incisiveness of his choices in selecting the telling details, plus the eloquence of how he describes them are what separate Taylor from the dull herd of sheep writers, all alike from a distance and all sounding the same. In that way, who he reminds me of is Leonard Cohen, the poet turned songwriter. Let’s play a game. Who wrote which of these lines:

I built my house beside the wood so I could hear you singing.

You wonder about a lonely question mark you found in the palm of your hand.

I have decided what missing wants, a piece of chalk to write it, what is missing.

Here is your cart, your cardboard and piss, and here is your love for all this.

The first and the fourth are by L. Cohen, the second and third by S. Taylor. Both writers focus their work on lives that are both well-examined by their bearers, yet are still exalted or marred by magnetic inclinations towards obsession. And there are talismans too – a blender first used when a separating couple shared their first drink, the nape of a neck, a book made of bound mattresses.

Each of Taylor’s stories focus around a moment that reveals a life. The first story, “Flight and Weightless”, echoes Miriam Toews’ novel All My Puny Sorrows as it captures the final hours of a pianist’s life as she decides to go out playing one last song. Or there’s “Hannah in Together Selfishly”, who secretly records her younger lovers’ trysts, being resolved to do … something with the tapes. My favourite of the stories, “Depluralize the Pair” has at its core a man trying to open a coconut in order to assist some food protesters.

In sum, it is coming across a collection like Your Smallest Bones that makes a man like me glad of the reviewing profession for I can place my strongest recommendation to curious readers and so might help make a talented writer’s career. I want to thank Sean Taylor for the pleasant two afternoons I spent with his book, as warmed by it as by the spring sun of my Irish home. He is a goddamn great writer.