The Bench by Susan Koenig

The Bench by Susan KoenigThis review is based on an uncorrected proof, so does not refer to page numbers, extents, or the illustrations contained in the retail copy.

Koenig has included a wide selection of her short work, on a range of topics, permitting the reader to either read the collection in the presented order or dip in and out.

This selection contains 62 poems and short stories divided into 12 sections. The poems range in length and style from the brief structure of haiku to the ongoing fluidity of multiple-page free verse. The stories are similarly diverse, with longer pieces interspersed throughout the many drabbles and flashes. While the titles of some of the sections (such as He loves me, she loves me not… and Humour with a twist) seem to reveal their contents, Koenig is not afraid to subvert definitions leaving the reader unable to disregard a section as not for them merely on its title.

The collection opens with the eponymous story, formed of a series of self-contained drabbles each setting out a moment in the life of a park bench. The brevity forced on these stories by the form not only focuses the reader on the detail of a single event without the burden of grand narratives, but also forces them to consider that a bench experiences existence as transitory events within a uniform now. This presentation of stories as fragments of a greater whole, at which the observer can only ever speculate, is a recurring theme throughout many of the other works.

Cartesian coordinates;
worlds away from origin
The girl with traffic jam eyes.

The Girl with Traffic Jam Eyes

In addition to the differing forms of writing, Koenig presents a range of tones and styles. The poems in particular span the spectrum between immediately accessible and challengingly metaphorical, traditional and post-modern.

Having rejected the constraint of a single form or style, Koenig similarly plays with genre, writing horror that is mundane alongside magical reality.

As the foliage floats in the air
landing on still green grass,
the sound foretells the storms to come.
The sun slips into its winter coat.

– Autumn

Although one of the strongest themes of this collection is briefness, Koenig does not confine herself to simple snapshots. Many of the works, especially the several vampire tales, also contain images of how tedious absence can be, whether that of meaningful time or love.

I found some of the works in this collection more powerful and engaging than others; however, this is unsurprising given the breadth of topics. I recommend this to readers who are looking for something to pick up and put down as the mood takes them.

I received a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

 


The Bench is now available from Amazon or direct from the printer.


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