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Review: ‘Flame at Door and Raisin: The First Three Short Stories’ by Alex M. Frankel

By Radomir Vojtech Luza

Alex M. Frankel may be the best writer in Los Angeles who has not hit The New York Times Bestseller list.  “FLAME AT DOOR AND RAISIN,” his latest short story collection, aims to raise the bar for writers from The City of Angels that much higher when it comes to perspective and reach.  The first three short stories are drawn and sketched with great courage, depth and charm.

The short stories are powerfully written, immediate in taste, sight and smell and wildly imaginative.  The author of MY FATHER’S LADY WEARING BLACK and BIRTH MOTHER MERCY does not ask or wish us down his colorful paths of crimson and pistachio, but takes us on separate journeys of substance, style and symphony.  

Whether taken separately or as a group, the trio is mind-bending, heart-rending and soul sending.  They inspire, illuminate and agitate like fresh peaches and magenta cherries.

It is the philosophy, metaphysics and intense imagery here that massage us the readers and allow them to flow into the dialogue like wet, smooth rivers without a worry in the world.

These are not simply benign stories, but malignant tales of turbulence, troubadours, sky settlers and voracious victims.  The latter beautifully and movingly mined.  These three stories are nothing short of unforgettable in their clarity, wonder, realism and flair making us the readers weep, laugh and scream.

The words are always human, never hollow and forever rich with a halo.

Frankel, who now writes poetry, wrote this collection and a total of 17 short stories while living in Barcelona, Spain in the late 1980’s and 1990’s when he went by the name of Marcel Jr. Franklin.

“Flame,” published online in the literary journal, FRONT PORCH JOURNAL, concerns 22-year-old Brooke and her accidental death in Barcelona, Spain.  The humanity in this story is thick and plausible.  The portrait of the human condition transparent and pregnant.  The story challenges softly and discreetly without being overly aggressive, arrogant or heavy handed.

The second short story, “Demons of the River,” published in the online literary journal, AMARILLO BAY, is about a family on vacation trapped in a military coup.  The writing here is nothing less than spiritual and immaculate, pushing while pulling, giving yet taking.  There are but a few short stories you will read in your life with the passion and feeling of this river.

Excerpts include:

“He reached into a bag and took out some more potato chips.  He put them in his mouth and looked over at his sister.  She did not appear to be suffering.  Her hands folded on her lap, she looked out the window at the coconut palms, and beyond them at the big freighters in the bay and the baroque cloud formations in the sky, her eyes moving serenely over these objects as if she were observing them from a world no human had access to.”    

–Page 30–

“And there was the image of Christ in front of me, and on the big altarpiece was a painting of the Virgin, and it was then that it hit me: there was something else, something bigger than life and death.  I saw that my little world of family and school projects and dances was not the real world, that there was another world lying behind it that I hadn’t discovered.  For the rest of our story in that village I sat on the grass gazing up at those magnificent peaks, and I wanted the beauty of what I saw before me to be in myself, and I wanted it to be lasting, and so I decided to take the veil.”

–Page 38–

The third short story, “Liz Atkins: A Questionary,” published in CHAUTAUQUA, brings up many more questions than answers in its troubling account of a missing woman.  The short story forces us, the readers, to look inside ourselves for the solutions to problems we put there.  It personifies rejection and desperation.  Isolation, fear, doubt, jealousy and grief are among the topics discussed.  Once more, this story soars like an eagle and scales heights like a mountain climber taking on Everest.  It does not merely entertain, but enlighten, harmonize and bring together.

Excerpt includes:

“Then: the prayerful cries of urchins as dawn unveils a massive lake: the beginning of the morning chorus?  –please, someone, stop the mosquitoes.
Yes, the morning chorus inside a rainforest, close to the ancient slide of water into daylight…these flowers far from towns! This chorus! And Liz begins her song.”

–Page 68–

In the end the first three short stories of this collection are a mouthwatering delight proving that short stories can have the same effect as long fiction.  The three are a belated Christmas gift to any serious reader.  They inform as well as introduce, intercept and inject.

But more than anything else, this magnificent trio of short stories prove that Frankel is as good a fiction writer as he is a poet, maybe better.

We, the readers, are astounded, aroused and astonished by what is existence squared and raw talent flared.  

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