Richard Snodgrass’s illuminating short story collection FURROW AND SLICE pairs photographs with spare prose to show the punitive realities and the pride of small town and farm life. The dozens of black and white photos alternate with very short stories, most as little as one or two pages in length, and feature natural landscapes of farmlands in all the seasons and personal items in peoples’ homes, from chairs and shoes to candles and stacks of papers, all saturated with intimacy and covert meaning, snapshots of peoples’ lives. The stories, too, are snapshots, offering a slice of life perspective of a small town farmers market, the birth of a stillborn calf, a confrontation between an elderly farmer father and a businessman son, and more in which people are tied to the land, to their work, and to each other. In a small space, the writing reveals a great depth of feeling. Gestures as minute as the shrug of a shoulder or the intake of breath are imbued with meaning.
While the writing is beautiful and elegant, many of the stories are too short to be poignant, aiming for insight but just missing; instead of provoking thought, the most successful stories evoke feeling. What does it feel like to want your life to change but to not know how to step out of your comfort zone? How does it feel to see your father watch his wife leave him and carry on with his work as if nothing happened? The characters in these stories, though only in frame for a moment, are fully realized people who wear their histories on their sleeves in the hands of Snodgrass and his sharp, probing prose.
Though the many one-page stories are fleeting glimpses, the longer piece that makes up the last third of the book, “The Hill Wife,” displays the best of Snodgrass’s skill. The perspective expertly shifts from father to son to mother to expose bit by bit, in just a handful of pages, the deepest insecurities, desires, and beliefs of three individuals whose lack of communication has torn them apart. “The Hill Wife,” and most of the other stories in FURROW AND SLICE depict the sort of person who finds a sense of purpose in working the land, tending the flock, doing what has to be done to maintain their livelihood, and finding that it’s enough, even when others can’t understand.
FURROW AND SLICE showcases the capacity for concise language to reveal so much in such few words as it puts on exhibit the complexity of farm life without judgement.
~Aimee Jodoin for IndieReader