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Running Smack into General Sherman: Stories from North Carolina to London (And Back Again) by Jeffrey T. Kiser-Paradi
In Jeffrey T. Kiser-Paradi's distinctive collection of short stories, we find ourselves on a bit of a disjointed and oftentimes comic journey. Part fiction, part autobiography and family history, we are offered a glimpse into an odd, incongruous world where the past of the American South, rife with “the War” and fragrant great-aunts, comes crashing into the concrete and glass and “Mind the Closing Doors” existence of modern life.
This is a place where individuals attempt to shake off their past, moving house and changing continents along the way, all the while awakening to the reality that long ago accidents of human folly, such as war and death, can still hold sway in the present. The events of 1863 can indeed diagram the outcomes of 1903, 1937, and 2004.
It is a world where the material objects that comprise our everyday life are empowered with the ability to move and shake our destiny. A bed, a piano, a Christmas ornament, and an antique cupboard can not only remind us of just where it is we stand in the order of the universe, but can deliver a well-placed smack on the head as well.
The stories range in date and setting from early twentieth-century Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, to late twentieth-century New York City, to modern day London, with subjects touching on the awakening of childhood consciousness, racism, suicide, midlife ennui, mourning and guilt, class and snobbery, and the capability of the past to colour, affect, and even determine one’s present.
For example, "August 1903" explores the imagined internal breakdown of the author's great-grandfather before his sudden death in 1903. "The Healer" moves ahead thirty years to observe one of the effects of that death on the author's grandfather, who is considered to possess special healing powers on account of his never having seen his own father. "The Photograph," taking place in the late 1990s, finds the author's grandmother still reacting to this loss, by her inexplicable editing of an old family photograph. The final story, “Running Smack into General Sherman,” is an account of a North Carolinian living in London, who is confronted, tangibly, with his family’s past in the form of a treasured heirloom getting stuck in a Council block stairwell.
Jeffrey T Kiser-Paradi was born in Charlotte, where he was fortunate to come of age among the fallow cotton fields and falling-down barns of his grandparents’ farm in rural Mecklenburg County. His fascination with history, antiques, genealogy, and the past in general, showed up early and inexplicably in his life, with his parents being rather stumped as to where the interest came from. He lived in Greensboro and New York City before moving to London in 1998, where he makes his home with Tibor, his husband of nine years.
He still longs for livermush.