Draw a Circle
Book Reviewed by Roger Market
Draw a Circle by Lowell Silverstein is one of those “holy grail” books of short fiction: it grabs you from the first story. Even if you’re uncomfortable with the subject matter, there is no denying the writer’s ability to move the reader toward some emotional destination. His talent is honed; his story order is well chosen.
And I’d expect nothing less from Lowell, one of this year’s 27 graduates of the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts program at the University of Baltimore. On the surface, Lowell’s a quiet guy. But as his short story collection shows, there is something beneath the quiet that’s bursting to get out. Something haunting and refreshing, funny and poignant.
Should I laugh at a baby who’s been left alone in a bathtub and who’s afraid of the sucking drain? Do I chuckle at the supremely imaginative mind of a man who technically—okay, let’s not downplay it, a man who really does have a life-threatening disease? There’s a gray line in many of these stories, and that’s the secret to their success.
In “Manifest,” a man weasels his way into living with a loner in a mansion that’s far too big for one person—and yet somehow not big enough, as it turns out. “Closed” follows a man’s thoughts about women and the end of the world. And do I need to describe “Walter Mitty Syndrome”?
“Out of It,” a story about working—or, more accurately, pretending to work—in an office environment, sets a deadpan tone that will remind readers of the comic film, Office Space.
Up next: “A Journal of Travels through Time, “Super Band-Aid,” and “The Fate of the Ex!” All of which evoke a wandering, fun, superhero-style theme. But don’t let that description fool you; these aren’t your typical, Saturday morning, sanitized superheroes. There’s some refreshing depth to be found here.
Finally, in “Bathwater,” a man finds a baby girl in his bathtub and asks where she came from. “I’ve been here, the baby said. I’m your baby.” And if a baby popping up in a bathtub out of nowhere, claiming to have been there the whole time, isn’t absurd or funny enough for you, you should note that the baby is afraid that it’s going to be sucked down the drain with the bathwater. This very logical baby lovingly steals the closing scene of the book.
As for the book’s cover, designed by the author himself, it’s almost childlike in its simplicity, but this is intentional, and it’s part of the charm. Random circles, overlapping like a Spirograph, reference the book’s title story, and reveal the predictable yet wild nature of thought and imagination. Occasionally humans manage to follow a thread from its beginning all the way to its end, like a perfect circle, but more often than not, we veer off on a tangent before we even reach the end. Then there’s another tangent, and another, and so on. More often than not, we’re circling around our initial idea, and who knows if we’ll ever return to our starting point? The mind is powerful, creative, and unpredictable, and so is this book.
Draw a Circle capitalizes on the human need to imagine something from nothing, even if it doesn’t always look the way we thought it would. I can’t think of a more perfect title for this short story collection. Buy it; read it. And don’t forget the tissues for the first story—or maybe just something to squeeze or punch, if that’s your thing. Once you’ve read “Draw A Cirlcle” you’re in the clear. It’s smooth sailing from “Manifest” to “Bathwater.”