Book Review — Roots and Shoots

Root and Shoot by Nathan Leslie
Roots and Shoots by Nathan Leslie is his seventh book of short fiction. Leslie is also the author of Night Sweat, a poetry collection. His first novel, The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, was published by Atticus Books in 2012. His next collection of short stories, Sibs, will be published by Aqueous Books in the spring. His short stories, essays, and poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, South Dakota Review, and Cimarron Review. He was the series editor for The Best of the Web anthology 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for many years. He is currently the fiction editor for Newport Review.

I first came across Leslie’s writing in the 2016 Best Short Fictions. The story was called “The New Cycle” (which is also included in this collection). It was dark and a bit disturbing but in an engaging way. Many of his stories a leave the impression that the reader has walked into the middle of a conversation and what is heard is not meant for his or her ears, and not knowing the complete context makes things a bit uneasy. I read several stories before going to bed and when I awoke the next morning, I felt like I heard some terrible news, like a death of a friend. It was a haunting and I couldn’t place or shake the malaise. It took some time before I convinced myself that Melek was just a character in the story “Huzun.” Not all the stories have this strong of an effect but every story lives on after the reader is finished.

Leslie can turn the mundane into the interesting. A homeless man, simply known as the “Pickle Man,” is such a story. There is no rise or climax to the story, yet it is a story that commands the reader’s interest. “Upgrade” follows an Eastern European’s journey through American holidays Halloween, Labor Day, Independence Day, and the minor holidays ending with Valentine’s Day. It is an outsider’s view of things Americans take for granted or have forgotten the meaning. To an outsider, things may seem more complex. On the topic of complex, several stories revolve around relationships. Relationships between those in love, those looking for attention, family, and strangers. How much would you be willing to do for a couple you just met? Would you commit a felony for them after only befriending a few hours earlier?

The stories have great range in subject matter and to my surprise, the stories did not have the pattern of the same author telling a string of stories. Leslie creates a different persona for each story keeping the narrative fresh and new. The tone stays level and neutral to dark. There are no rainbow or unicorn stories here. This collection reaches into real life and real people. Life is tough at times and things rarely go as we expected them to go. It’s how people react to these changes that make people or characters interesting. Leslie shows his ability to channel all these variables and weave them into memorable stories.

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