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Dan Powell

Dan Powell is an award winning author whose short fiction has been published in Carve, Paraxis, Fleeting and The Best British Short Stories 2012. In 2013 he received a Carve Esoteric Award for his story 'Storm in a Teacup' and his debut collection was shortlisted for the 2013 Scott Prize. He teaches part-time and is currently working on his first novel.

Blurbs

"Looking Out of Broken Windows stacks modern gem on modern gem, the economy of words offers powerful observation, the exacting prose vibrates with energy, starkness and heart. It is remarkable.”

– Caroline Smailes

“On ‘Half-Mown Lawn’: An everyday subject lifted out of the mundane by the sheer quality of the writing.”

– Francine Lee

“On ‘Storm in a Teacup’: Brilliant. One of the most well-crafted, skilled, and creative pieces I've read in my lifetime.”

– Carve editorial team

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Featured Book

Looking Out of Broken Windows

Anything is Possible Here

03/17/14

“Imagining fiction without family is like imagining life without a head. There’s so much organic tension, drama, joy, confusion.” Ben Marcus said this in a recent Salon interview with David Burr Gerrard, and I can’t think of a better way to sum up the themes in Dan Powell’s debut collection of short prose, Looking Out of Broken Windows (shortlisted for the Scott Prize). Confusion. Joy. Drama. And above all, organic tension — friction even, and the moments when friction becomes impact.

Powell builds up to these moments so well that my reaction to each narrative is, without exception, physical. My chest tightens, my heart begins to race. I care about what happens to these characters, and a lot happens to these characters. In fact, Powell’s style finds its roots in a story arc in which surprisingly active, explosive moments urge the narrative along toward a well-conceived climax — a traditional element of good storytelling lacking from much writing today.

This is not to say that Powell’s collection is conventional. It’s anything but. The opening and title story, “Looking Out of Broken Windows,” tells the reader that anything is possible here. It tells the reader this will be a collection that deconstructs metaphor in so many creative ways through magic realism, but it will also be a family of stories that fearlessly goes where most writers have gone before, exploring infidelity, relationships in crisis, children’s complicated relationships to their parents. Loss.

To say merely that Powell “explores” these issues wouldn’t explain exactly what the author is doing with this collection. He’s not exploring so much as inhabiting. A few of these tales are told from a child’s point of view, a few from the vantage point of a male; but many of the 27 stories are told from a female character’s point of view. Powell’s women are dealing with the stress of pregnancy, betrayal or grief — or all of the above—but most often they are simply taken for granted in their roles as wife, mother or sexual partner.

The wife/mother in the story “What Precise Moment,” who wakes up one morning to find she’s become a vending machine to her family, represents this unappreciated woman most concisely in this collection; the wife/mother in “Demand Feeding” is so unappreciated — so pale — that we never even know her name. She’s also a sort of vending machine for Andy, her viciously insatiable newborn, and Chris, her sex-starved husband. All the while, she feels her self vanishing:

Looking at yourself in the mirror, hair in need of a stylist, the maternal uniform of joggers and sick-stained tee hanging off you, it’s like staring at your life disappearing into the distance, the woman you were blinking out at a vanishing point, leaving behind this shambles, this outline.

Bleak, yes, but the women in these stories are astoundingly assertive and self-confident considering their situations; Powell’s men, on the other hand, tend to be weak, ill, dying or already dead.

Take Calvin, the 40-something, overprotected protagonist in “Did You Pack this Bag Yourself?” He never really finds the strength to free himself from his unhealthy relationship with his mother, though he struggles. Powell keeps the central mother/son conflict one breath away from implosion, keeping Calvin distanced from his raw, real emotions until the very end. And even then, we get merely a smile of satisfaction.

In fact, most of the male characters in this collection live lives at a safe distance from their feelings, as in the acclaimed “The Man Who Lived Like a Tree” and “Baggage,” a brilliant tale of magic realism about a man who buys bags to store his facial expressions.

So many of these stories surprise and delight with elements of magic realism, the most endearing of which is when the foetal twins in “Ultrasound II” turn and see their parents for the first time through the ultrasound. In “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Cancer,” the main character’s illness becomes a character with a voice. The death scene in this story is emotionally crushing.

Simply put, these characters and their stories are memorable. Powell’s ingenuity proves that we’ll never be done with the family as motif, that we haven’t yet exhausted the possibilities fiction holds when channeled through a superb mind. By blending solid, well-developed familial dramas with magical realism — as well as the occasional experimental post-modern twist — Powell offers his readers a visceral, sometimes troubling and ultimately satisfying reading experience.

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