Verdict: SIGNS OF PASSING is a thoughtful and evocative collection of short stories full of memorable characters.
SIGNS OF PASSING is a collection of loosely connected short stories, in which Owen Thomas’ eclectic group of characters interact and influence each other in subtle ways, often without knowing it.
Throughout this collection, Thomas explores the universal human longing for a new or better life. In the opening story, “Winchester County,” a young boy from a broken home dreams of living in the world of his favorite TV show. In the aptly named “Still Life,” a young woman who lost her husband in the war struggles to break free from her grief until something terrible about her deceased spouse’s past is accidentally revealed. In “Shoreline Drive,” a psychiatrist named Peter who seems to have everything grapples with his desire for more, as well as his need to hold tight to what he already has. The main characters in SIGNS OF PASSING come from vastly different positions in life—whether it’s wealth or poverty, isolation or surrounded by family, etc.—but they all yearn to escape the confines of their current existence. Of course, the thematic similarities occasionally make it easy to see certain plot developments coming, but this collection still contains more than its share of surprises.
Thomas’ fully-realized characters are what make SIGNS OF PASSING a truly enjoyable work of fiction. As with a troubled friend, their actions often seem questionable, but it is rarely difficult to empathize with them, even when it becomes apparent that they are heading down a dangerous path. Thomas’ poignant descriptions of those characters also helps considerably. For example, in “Shoreline Drive” Thomas offers this description of a friend of Peter’s wife who lost her husband and son in an accident a few years before: “Ellen, suddenly, in his doorway, was an attractive, forty-six year old widow who appeared to have conquered the demons that had occupied her for the past year and a half. Her eyes, once hollow black sockets, ringed and ragged with deprivation, had become soft and hazel and responsive to his every word.” While this is ostensibly just a simply description of Ellen, this sentence effectively pulls double duty, as it actually says much more about Peter’s perception of her and shines some light on his conflicted state.
SIGNS OF PASSING is a thoughtful and evocative collection of short stories full of memorable characters.