Shimmerville:Tales Macabre and Curious

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Shimmerville: Tales Macabre and Curious
Writer's Club Press
ISBN 0-595-25962-6
Trade Paperback, 229 pages


With a Nod to Chaucer, Ross Has His Own Shimmering Tales
R.d. Pohl, Buffalo News, May 4, 2003

In the shadows of a 21st century American metropolis - a city in which civil liberties have been suspended in the interests of homeland security and all social programs dismantled in order to provide tax cuts for the wealthy - a mysterious old man and his adult daughter seek shelter in an Urban Refugee Center. The man is too weak for day labor outside the gates of the internment camp, but has one special talent that brings him sustenance and protects him and his daughter from harm: He is a storyteller. . .

This is the George Orwell meets Ralph Ellison narra­tive premise that Buffalo author Gary Earl Ross establish­es in the prologue to "Shimmerville: Tales Macabre and Curious," his latest collection of short stories published by Writers Club Press. "Inside (Shimmerville)" are ghosts in cast-off clothing, wrapped in stolen blankets and damp sleeping bags, human detritus left in the wake of a changing world," he writes, "No one knows who gave Shimmerville its name, but there are hundreds of similar camps around the country; places designed to hold the disparate and desperate by-prod­ucts of urban renewal, racism, glob­alization, catastrophic illness, stock market crashes and failed wars on poverty, drugs and ter­rorism."

Ross, who will read passages from "Shimmerville" and sign copies of the book at 7 p.m. Thursday at Talking Leaves Books, 3158 Main St., is one of this region's most visible and accomplished prose writers. An associate pro­fessor at the University at Buffalo's Educational Opportu­nity Center, he is a familiar voice as a commentator on local public radio and contributor to the op-ed pages of this newspaper.

In March, the Arts Council hi Buffalo and Erie County honored his achievements as an independent author, pub­lisher and community educator by naming him Individual Artist of the Year for 2003.

Readers impressed by Ross' previous collection, "The Wheel of Desire and Other Intimate Hauntings," will find even more to like in the allegorical and interconnected tapestry of narratives hi "Shimmerville." I caught up with Ross at his UB office last month and posed a number of questions about the book to him via e-mail.

Q: Although several of the stories in "Shimmerville" combine suspense and eroticism in much the way you did in your first book ("The Wheel of Desire and Other Inti­mate Hauntings"), there are also longer tales like "Sand" and "The Faithful Wife" that read like adaptations of myth and folk narratives. What was the inspiration for these stories?

A: These are actually my favorite pieces. "Sand" echoes Hamlet and Poe mixed with an NPR report on a culture that uses vultures to dispose of the dead. Back when we were just friends, my wife went to China to teach. "The Faithful Wife" grew out of a tale she heard there of a woman whose life was ruined by rumor. Both stories have non-Western settings but universal themes. My writ­ing will always address issues important to Americans of color, but I try to listen when Monbari [the book's storyteller]whispers in my ear.

Q: In addition to being a classic story of murder, mis­carriage of justice and revenge set across four decades hi this city, "Of Shadows and Silence" is also a fairly accurate barometer of racial attitudes in Buffalo in the pre-crvil rights era. Did you base the novella on any actual family tragedy of era?

A: No specific case inspired "Shadows." It began as a what if. . .? The child witnessing his mother's murder was the core of an earlier novel that lost its way but never left my mind. I took the stronger chapters and changed direction. As for pre-civil rights Buffalo, I grew up here and was shaped by the attitudes of the day. Fortunately, the anger in my writing was later molded into something meaningful by wonderful teachers, like Bennett's Eliza­beth Neuschel and UB's Leslie Fiedler, both of whom passed away recently, as well as UB's Carlene Hatcher Polite.

From The Boox Review, 2003:

Fans of macabre themes and of authors with the gift to weave these dark ideas into something meaningful will appreciate Shimmerville, Gary Earl Ross’s engaging new set of shorts about some of the more challenging themes here on schoolroom Earth.

Ross, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center, proves that the positive attention he garnered following the release of his previous story collection, The Wheel of Desire and Other Intimate Hauntings, was not merely a stroke of good luck: readers with an affinity for harder edged themes like homelessness, institutional learning, murder and divorce (just to name a few) will not be disappointed with this glimmering, shimmering engagement of a book.