Deny the Father

by M. Duda

"Sewer-rat children screamed obscenities at one another and laughed. Somewhere far away, a siren wailed. ... I felt her claw my hand and heard her weep. I never did learn her name. My breath whistled through red-stained nostrils."

Hope, greed, and desperation are very powerful—and very human. Deny the Father is a collection of three stories that delve into the chaos that these forces can cause. The stories contained within this short book engulf the reader in despair and leave a dark mark in their wake. The author dissects his three male protagonists in search of the meaning of humanity, then leaves them for dead. In fact, death is the central thread that connects the three tales. "A Sarjeta (The Gutter)" begins with death in the lowest of places; "Good-bye, Sweet Mercury" discovers death from a different plane of existence and points the reader's mind to the planets; and "Yesterday Never, Tomorrow, and Today" vaults the narrative into these very same planets. Together, the stories form a complete thematic arc, painted in clear prose and dark imagery.

The three stories follow different characters and the internal and external struggles they deal with. No matter how they got there, none of the protagonists want to be where they are. They dream of escaping from their chains and living in a better, brighter place. Using an ambling manner of writing, the author captures each character's state of mind as they follow these dreams for the wrong reasons and to disastrous results. The first story tells the story of an ambitious 12-year-old boy who lives in squalor and eats nothing but beans every day. He dreams of escaping from the "Gutter," but his big dreams land him in big trouble when he gets mixed up with a group of criminals. In the second story, the ghost of a man must come to terms with his death and move on. He longs to reach out to his daughter, whom he affectionately calls Mercury, but instead he must learn to accept that she will grow and thrive without him. The third story takes place on a faraway planet where Earthlings still maintain financial ties to their home planet. Burdened by debt and a failing crop, one farmer comes across a dying alien who just might be able to turn his luck around.

They're an unlikely trio: a young boy, a ghost, and a farmer in outer space. Despite their apparent differences, the three stories are united by the universality of life's struggle. The stories seem to hint that no matter who or where you are, you feel the same in the end as countless others on the planet. The key, the stories seem to indicate, is not to let negative emotions consume and overtake you. The stories pack a lot of meaning into a small space. Along with the idea of mortality they also explore the bonds of fatherhood, the role of the female influence, and a number of other themes. IN their density, you will find yourself reading these more than once to extract the full meaning behind them.

M. Duda accomplishes in a few pages what takes other authors can in hundreds. He crafts believable characters, locations, and scenarios, then breathes life into them. He wields the absolute power an author has over his creations: The same life he creates is just as easily snuffed out. The message is grim and the stories are dark, yet there is a glimmer of hope in each story; a spark that shows that selflessness and acceptance can help others find a better place, even when it's already too late for you.

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