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  • Breathing Life
  • Shome Dasgupta (bio)
Vampire Conditions. Brian Allen Carr. 114pages; paper, $9.99, Kindle eBook, $2.99.

Brian Allen Carr exhales a raw and abrasive breath with his collection of short stories, Vampire Conditions (2012)—at times, its rough texture is subtle, while at other times, the words become large and muscular, springing forth from the pages at great speeds. The stories call to mind the unusual situations found in the works of such writers as William Faulkner, A.M. Homes, and Denis Johnson. A desperado mentality travels from story to story, bringing a certain tone similar to Westerns in some ways, and there is this feeling of living in a time when much is unknown except for the lives of a city's residents. The s situations grasp the reader, pulling her in through the use of realistic language—whether through narration or dialogue. Ranging from adolescents to adults, the characters are real and flawed and confused, and they switch back and forth with emotions and thoughts, which helps the reader to understand the chaos trapped within each story. A search for identity within Carr's narration builds upon itself to create tension between the characters themselves and between the characters and the reader. In addition to this gutter-like hue embedded within these stories, Carr, combines beautiful descriptions of landscape and nature with detailed poetic lines, flowing with ease.

In "The Paint From Her Hands," Carr tells a dark story centered around a baby dead upon birth. The husband, Barrow, decided to create a new baby to replace the dead one, and process is quite detailed as the beginning stages are described:

The woman at the market cracked an egg open and emptied it into her hand. She dropped the shell into the soil of a potted hibiscus on the ground beside her, and she spread her fingers and tilted her palm and let the egg white slip into a metal mixing bowl. She then slid the yolk into a granite molcajete and took up a pestle and swirled it through the yolk before raising and mashing the bright yellow sack with the dull instrument. She had already formed the face from polymer clay.

Through these details, Carr allows the reader to actually believe in what is taking place as Barrow tries to replace a dead baby with a fake one. What's the difference? The answer is up in the air, but at the end of the story, Tabitha and Barrow believe in the fake baby—believe that this figure is much more than just yolk and clay and that it represents more:

She asked it questions that Barrow didn't understand, but Barrow could see from Tabitha's expression that the baby had a silent way of answering her…. And Barrow let a smile take him gently, because he knew he's found his kin.

"Lucy Standing Naked" is a quintessential coming-of-age story centered around Nelson and his friend, Lucy. Carr covers a lot of firsts one goes through while growing up—first friend, first time seeing a naked a body of the opposite sex, first time seeing someone else's male genitals (and comparing it to one's own), and the first kiss: '"Wanna make out?' she asked as we sat on a curb. She was dressed like a nun, and I was dressed like a cowboy." Lucy plays the role of the carefree, free-spirited girl who takes a liking to Nelson, and she sticks up for him as Nelson, who seems to not have been born in the U.S., was always being picked on. Carr was able to mesh all of these different aspects into a natural fluid story, and sometimes it is the subtleties that leave more of mark in the reader's mind as Nelson sees Lucy naked for the first time at the bay:

Lucy was down there the first time I went, her shirt off. She was flopping around in the salt water, hanging off the arm of a tattooed fella who looked twice her age. She had bracelets on. Dozens of bracelets.

He noticed "dozens of bracelets" around her wrist and...


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