Book Review – ‘Calls To Distant Places’ by Peter Jordan

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.

A guilt-ridden orca trainer; a recovering alcoholic; a struggling widow; a deployed soldier. These are just some of the characters that come to brutal, delicate life in Peter Jordan’s debut short fiction collection, Calls To Distant Places. Peter places his characters in a kaleidoscope of settings from the Gulf War to the Australian Outback, the jungles of Africa to the glitter of Las Vegas; places that test their strength, highlight their weakness, emphasise the extraordinary in their everyday experiences. 

There is a quiet desperation in these characters as they wrestle with their demons, and Jordan doesn’t shy away from the detail of this battle, even when it’s lost. The images he presents have a discomfiting beauty, even when discussing the darkest moments of their lives:

I read recently that more people drown in the desert than die of thirst. Flash floods are the killer. It doesn’t rain for a long time. When it does rain, people aren’t expecting it, and it really rains, and people just drown. That’s what it’s like when I drink. A flash flood.

These are people who’ve known the worst of the world. Their pain is visceral. And yet in the midst of their personal tragedies, there are also flickers of hope:

Then he looked down at the settlement, and finally understood who he was.

Jordan’s stories sparkle in their humanity. Their intense emotional resonance comes from a sharp focus on ordinary moments, and they each find a widely relatable thread that draws the reader deeply in. Peter shows us different facets of addiction and recovery – a desire for freedom, tiny moments of hope when all seems hopeless. There is also plenty of loss and grief – the loss of another, the loss of self, how others can shape our identities and rip them away from us in moments:

It puts him right back, the death of that Lieutenant. 

There is also a focus on mental health – how our traumas impact us, and how we are fundamentally changed by them. The wrongfully convicted man emerges from prison bathed in the darkness of his experiences behind bars. The hospital inpatient bravely steps out into the world, only to realise he’s perhaps not quite as ready as everyone thought – including himself. The widow wrestles with guilt and relief over her husband’s death. These are the stories of unremarkable people caught in often unremarkable circumstances; and yet they hum with an intensity that draws the reader through every story, whether half a page or several. 

Jordan uses tremendous language – every word earns its keep, with just enough of the right detail to bring the pictures to life. There are moments of clever wordplay that bring a dark humour to some of the stories and this provides relief against some of the more intense scenes, as well as demonstrating Peter’s skill and subtlety as a writer. He is a master of the short form, knowing exactly when to arrive in and leave the story, trusting the reader to follow the trail of breadcrumbs left by his words. 

Calls To Distant Placesis a stunning collection, tightly weaving a diverse array of characters and settings into a mosaic of the vulnerability that makes us human. There is something for everyone in these tales of outsiders; your heart will ache for them, you will urge them forward, and they will stay with you long after you’ve read the last page. This is not a book that is easily forgotten.

Peter Jordan’s Calls To Distant Places is available now from Amazon. 

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