The Dahlia Field
Henry Alley, the author of "Precincts of Light," has compiled fourteen previously published short stories in "The Dahlia Field." It is a piercing, gripping, somewhat gloomy yet expressly poignant collection that presents men at various stages of life in relationship circumstances that range from familiar and relatable to questionable and avoidable.
The heavy-handedness of the collection is apparent from the first entry, "Border Guards," where the author introduces the oddest of unions, a fallen athlete turned police offer and a retired judge now a poet, both of whom share an affinity for running. The two learn that despite their difference in age and out status, they have more in common than their recreational sport of choice.
The following entry, "Children of Mars," begins in another sports venue, where we meet Leo, an umpire who once aspired to paint, as he prepares to reunite with his underachieving ex-lover, Royce, to discuss the status of their now debt-ridden home. By the third story, "To Come Home To," about a couple who ultimately realize they don't belong together, it is decidedly clear the author is not partial to distinctive endings or resolutions. He paints a pretty clear picture of where things are headed for his characters, but much like real life, nothing is certain, and everything is open to interpretation.
Carleton Park is seemingly the author's preferred location, and other resounding characteristics and premises throughout the anthology include alcoholism, family estrangement, and perhaps the most pervasive, performing artists.
In "Visits," Lance is an older actor, mourning the death of his lover, Ty, who takes Isaac, an intellectually curious youngster, under his wing. Roger, the main character in "Tides," is a choir singer who, by coincidence, becomes acquainted with his ex lover's son, Peter. My favorite entry, "Ashland," tells the touching story of Earl, a recovering alcoholic who discovers his award-winning playwright son, Donny, is HIV-positive.
Given the similarities and overarching themes, I got the impression these stories are all loosely intertwined, which may have been the author's intent or simply a trademark of his frank, affecting writing style.
Saving one of the best (and lengthiest) for last, "Would You Mind Holding Down My Body?" examines the unlikely yet passionate friendship between Seth, evangelical father and husband, and openly gay Chandler.
"The Dahlia Field" is an impressive introduction to Alley, whose work I wasn't familiar with beforehand but will now purposefully seek out.
"The Dahlia Field"
by Henry Alley
Chelsea Station Editions