Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews
B O O K   R E V I E W

Winter 2003

Bonneville Stories by Mark Doyon  


Bonneville Stories
Mark Doyon
Pocol Press, Clifton, VA
144 pp. $12.95




At first, one is tempted to classify the stories in Mark Doyon's collection Bonneville Stories as quirky, but upon reflection and full consideration of the material therein, the word “real” seems more appropriate. While the characters often display quirky habits and qualities, there is little doubt that these are the same run-of-the-mill people you would see every day if you walked through Bonneville in the Shenandoah Valley (or through any of the thousands of smaller towns across the nation). There's the disgraced ex-mayor, who returns to the area to start an after-hours speakeasy, only to be confronted by a stoic victim of his failed fireworks policy; there's the local boy swallowed by a sinkhole, eventually emerging to great notoriety, only to be forgotten and consumed by the greater morasses of adulthood and compulsive use of credit; there's a girl who loses her father to an errant radio-controlled model plane, and grows up to become violently obsessed with the unfairness of video poker machines; there's the 28-year-old male who stagnates in slothful passive retreat from reality (via early retirement in a senior citizens home), until a lurid video arrives that speaks of the value of action; and there are many others here, in various stages of epiphany or misfortune: a bible salesman killed by one of his own deluxe editions; a gardener who learns to divert his carnal instincts into a pure attentiveness to azaleas. Funny, heart-wrenching, pathetic. Doyon's characters breathe and muddle and gasp and sing in the hell that modern-day life  can be to the unwary soul. Some roast in their own juices over a self-made inferno; some recognize the need for action in that crossroad moment and wriggle free; others, capable and deserving perhaps, get skewered by the fork of a questionable providence. There are no guarantees in Bonneville.

Doyon's skills as a storyteller are well-developed, and his text is marked by a clean incisive prose that shows little sign of affectation or device. There may be a tad more exposition than one would find in standard plot-oriented fiction, but the characterizations are so deft and germane that one flows over it without a blink or reservation. If the characters are quirky, it is because they have sprung from that quirky petri dish we call “life”— no further clarification needed.

Our only quibble with the collection is that the first story and the last story are really two parts of one story. It probably would have been better had they indicated this in some more concrete way (same title perhaps, parts 1 and 2?)  since it leaves the unschooled reader with the impression that Doyon does not round his stories to a satisfactory completion. He most assuredly does. 

Perhaps the ruling theme in Bonneville Stories is one of desperation. Some of the Shenandoah locals make a brief sojourn through or past desperation, becoming more whole in the process, while others reside there, becoming monoliths stuck in a nearly existential paralysis of indecision and/or self-absorption. If Doyon has a moral point it's perhaps that, while there are no promises in this sphere, to stand still is to court the thunderbolt.

BV is a brisk, fascinating read, and we recommend it without reservation.        

- CAW –