I received a digital copy of this book from the author.
Collective Gravities by Chloe N. Clark is a collection of short stories about love and loss, regret, and how we pull each other in and repel each other with our emotional fields. It considers the ways we feel we owe each other, physically and mentally, and the price for each of us when we balance the accounts of our relationships.
The action in these stories is tempered by beautiful imagery. Chloe’s sensory descriptions create stunning backdrops for each of her stories.
I lay down in my back yard. The grass cold beneath me. A tingling building beneath my skin—like an inside-out shiver. Stretching out my arms, I wondered how far they might reach, if I was growing longer or if I could just feel my shadow.
In some cases these descriptions are juxtaposed against darker action within the stories themselves and this lends an unsettling yet pleasing air of tension. This example from the opening of the story ‘Bound’ gives no indication to the reader about the direction the story takes:
Trees swooned in towards the water, heavy with leaves and fruit, and algae bloomed the color of liquid emeralds.
Chloe uses this technique to create tension quite early in her pieces, rather than relying on a ‘twist’ at the end, and it serves her stories exceptionally well. The reader is left holding their breath, wondering what might happen, trying to interpret the signs.
These stories have a strong, modern voice, with a style that is easy to read and doesn’t drown in its own overwrought language. ‘Lover, I’ll Be Waiting’ is a standout – skilfully woven between folktales and the contemporary, addressing domestic violence in a strong yet subtle voice. Other stories examine the family in multiple modern contexts, romantic relationships in their myriad complexities, and how unstable common ground can sometimes be.
Clark’s writing is not flowery and it is this precise choosing of adjectives and metaphors that give her work incredible strength:
Still, there was something about the girl’s eyes—as if a dam had been breached inside her and there was no stopping sadness from flooding out.
There are no wasted words here; everything reveals character or advances the story, in a masterclass of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing advice. Each piece is well-paced; the reader never feels rushed or shortchanged, even in those stories that are only a few pages long.
There is a reliance on emotional connection which Chloe writes into her stories perfectly. She is able to find the core of these moments and immediately bring the reader into her character’s mind and internal state:
I held her head, smoothed the hair back from her face, and whispered you’ll be okay, it’ll pass, over and over. I did everything I was supposed to do, but in the back of my mind, I kept thinking what if something was really wrong, what if she died, what if this was it, what had I done.
These emotionally resonant scenes embed the reader and bring universally relatable moments to the fore, allowing for the recognition of the self even where the situation is not necessarily one in which the reader would necessarily find themselves. This aids the reader in suspending their belief enough to enter Clark’s speculative fictional universes, without disconnecting from the humanity that flows beneath the surface of the stories.
Chloe N. Clark’s fantastic imagination breathes life into these speculative fiction creations. At once exhilarating and haunting, Collective Gravities leaves the reader thinking about what draws us in, how we connect, and the price of atonement when we let people down. This book is a reminder of the fragility of us and our tenuous links, and will leave you questioning those things long past the last pages.
Collective Gravities releases July 7th, 2020 and is available for preorder now from Word West Press.