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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mary Hitchcock Cone’s Clear Effortless Writing Delivers Vivid, Memorable Characters

Book: Moose Mash and Other Stories
Author: Mary Hitchcock Cone
Genre: Literary fiction, short stories
Publisher: FolkHeart Press
Available:, Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Reviewed by  Barbara Swift Brauer of WordsWorth (

It’s hard to tell just what it is about Mary Cone’s collection, Moose Mash and Other Stories that carries the reader along so enjoyably from the first paragraph of the title story to the last paragraph of “Point of No Return.” Is it the light, engaging style? Down-to-earth characters, the wonderful humor, or rare insight into the complexities of human nature? Most likely, it is a fine interplay of all these qualities.

The subjects of the stories cover an amazingly wide range: from the humorous (a moose loose in a shoe store, a ghost looking for its murderer, siblings banding together to rescue the household from their bargain-crazy father) to the poignant (a young woman facing uncertain love, young soldiers leaving home for war).

At the heart of each story is the author’s exceptional ear for voice and dialogue. “Odd Socks,” for example, in which a late-night radio talk show host fields listeners’ calls on the subject of mismatched socks, is entirely dialogue the wonderful assortment of characters revealed only through their commentary on the topic.

Many stories are told in the first-person, the tone and pace of the characters’ narrative providing insight into who they are. This is most apparent in the Rashomon-style “Incident on Number 50,” in which five individuals each respond to the mishap of a fellow bus passenger.

In a few brief paragraphs, a portrait of each is expertly drawn. Wallace has been prescribed bifocals, and laments, “that meant he was officially middle-aged! His view of himself as a man of vigor, steely eyed at work, sexy-eyed at the Pagoda Bar, was no longer defendable.”

Laura, sitting behind Wallace on the bus, observes him taking his seat and thinks, “Edgar never would have sat down like that. If Edgar was with her now, he would purse his lips at the man in disgust. Ever-groomed, perfectly coordinated, intensely organized, critical Edgar. Laura suppressed a desire to pat the stranger on the shoulder as a gesture of fellowship.” She is on her way to the lawyer’s to sign the divorce papers.

Cone’s attention to visual detail is similarly acute. In “Ferry Ride,” Karen stands at the railing and notes, “Windows on the hillside houses catch the sun. They shine like shields protecting a suburban army. The rosy horizon gives way to turquoise blue. The outline of the hills across the bay sharpens.”

In every story, clear, effortless writing carries the narrative along. Whether broadly humorous, subtly wry, or deeply moving, there is an unfailing honesty about the author’s observations of her characters honesty and a profound compassion. At the end of “Joseph the Appreciator,” the protagonist contemplates the pull of relationship with his own need for independence. His epiphany is at once elated and wise:

“Western rays of the sun provided backlighting and the greens brightened. The sight filled him with fierce appreciative joy. He laughed. There it was. He would be an appreciator. Joseph the Appreciator, not a bad job for a man up in years . . .”

Long after the last page, the people encountered in these stories remain vividly alive in our imaginations. Their portraits are drawn so true to life, so much like ourselves, we feel as if we’ve known them. In some sense, we have.

~Reviewer Barbara Swift Brauer is a writer, editor, and poet, and, with husband Laurence Brauer, co-owner of Wordsworth publishing services. She is co-author of Witness: The Artist's Vision in “The Face of AIDS” (Pomegranate Artbooks, 1996). Barbara’s poetry has been widely published. Her full-length poetry collection is forthcoming from Sixteen Rivers Press.

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1 comment:

Karen Pierce Gonzalez said...

Was great to read about Moose Mash. Short stories are a perfect literary vehicle!
Thanks for this review!