By Rowan Wolf
This collection of short stories by Gaither Stewart, Signs of the Times, takes readers on a journey of the human drama; those questions that take us into and out of ourselves; those reflections that question time, history, our interactions with them and energetic influences that run between us and them and our actions within the resulting context.
This collection is being released in the midst of a pandemic which aside from an historical context is also characterized by increased isolation around the globe. We are social creatures and prolonged disruption of interaction, such as this pandemic has brought on us, is creating conditions that expose our raw edges. This makes Signs of the Times even more pertinent and Stewart explores those things that eat away at us – particularly under stress. Critical issues such as who we are and where we are going; the uncertainty of choices made in times where basic survival may be on the line; and managing relationships that may be too intense from too close prolonged proximity or failing relationships from absence. Stewart is a master at navigating these turbulent waters with his characters, and we can see our struggles and insecurities in their lives, just as we can identify with the quest towards integrity.
Historical context is virtually its own character in a good story, even if that is a completely fabricated history as with much science fiction. These stories in Signs of the Times seamlessly integrate the autobiographical and the historical; Stewart frequently writes historical fiction where the intertwining of the personal with the historical provides windows into the lived experience of epic times. How characters conceptualize themselves and the world around them and act upon those conceptualizations, gives us not only a deeper connection to those times but a reservoir of possibilities for dealing with high stress (even chaotic) periods in our own lives. This does not make this collection, or any work of Stewart’s, a self-help guide, but it is my belief that reading good stories does make us deeper people if for no other reason than we are exposed to the inside of the lives of his characters in ways we rarely experience at scale with day-to-day interaction. And Gaither Stewart is a very good storyteller.
I regularly write introductions for the works of various authors, and hands down it is Gaither’s short stories that most regularly trigger my imagination as well as my critical skills. I have thought long and hard about why this is, and I believe it is because of the rich, multilevel tapestry of his work. In what seems an effortless style he draws readers into his world that frequently places characters at the conjunction of human events, deeply personal explorations and relationships, and even global contexts that color everything like imperialism past and present. As his characters look inward and question themselves, we may recognize questions with which we have struggled. However, this is not simple navel-gazing, for we enter realms of philosophy and metaphysics without ever knowing how we got there. In this sense, Gaither Stewart is a magician, and his magic is amply represented in Signs of the Times. I recommend it to you without reservation and believe it will leave you eagerly awaiting his next story.
Rowan Wolf, Sociologist and Editor-Publisher of Uncommon Thought Journal
Categories: Books Reviews