Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Book Review: 'Three Shoeboxes' by Steven Manchester

Three Shoeboxes
This reviewer became acquainted with the very special novels of Massachusetts author Steven Manchester with his novel `THE UNEXPECTED STORM: The Gulf War Legacy' and many short stories that deal with one man's view of the universe in a lighter tone. That followed with his TWELVE MONTHS, GOODNIGHT, BRIAN, ROCKIN' CHAIR, ASHES, GOOSEBERRY ISLAND, PRESSED PENNIES, THE CHANGING SEASON - each of which allowed entry into his ability to address end of life situations, family relationships as challenged by cancer, by having a child with a critical disease, with death, and with more. The aspect of Manchester's books that is dependable is his ability to introduce delicate subjects without fear and still make the stories flow with a sense of familial love, humanistic views and spiritualism. And yet always there is the gift of his ability to be a fine storyteller in the true sense of the term.

Steven always manages to weave a contemporary conundrum into his stories – topics that offer a fresh look and a significant respect for his courage to introduce controversial topics. In THREE SHOEBOXES he offers a compassionate, accessible portrait of a vitally important topic, PTSD, how it affects the sufferer and the family—and how to find hope and healing.

Steven’s manner of introducing the reader to the depth of meaning of his stories in the opening lines has become a trademark of his. Only as the story unfolds do we appreciate the compassion he offers through a careful examination of interpersonal relationships and faith in humanity. ‘It was their fifteen-year wedding anniversary. Fifteen years, MacKenzie Anderson thought, feeling the weight of the special occasion. I should’ve waited until this year to give Jen the diamond bracelet, he thought, cursing himself for his premature decision the year before. I’m going to be making payments for the next couple of years anyway. In the hopes of being creative or original, MacKenzie—Mac, as most people called him—abandoned his mind and ventured into his heart, where he hoped the answer to his dilemma could be found. It didn’t take long for the only obvious choice to hit him. I got it! he thought. Rather than the usual material token, I’ll give Jen a peek into the future. For our fifteen-year wedding anniversary, I’ll give her a promise. His mind raced for more details. I’ll also fill a box with… He nodded, a smile filling his handsome face. I know exactly what to do. ⧝ Mac awoke earlier than Jen, as he had for the better part of a decade and a half. Sitting up, he took the few precious moments needed to confirm how much he really loved her. Though he’d memorized it years ago, he studied the soft contours of his wife’s face framed by a full head of chocolate locks. Working his way down, he focused on her full lips. She smiled; it was the slightest grin, but enough to steal away his yawn. He inhaled deeply. Her smell was so sweet, so distinct. I’d recognize it in either heaven or hell, he decided. She stirred once, and again, before struggling to open her eyelids and reveal a pair of light hazel eyes that sparkled with life. Mac never budged; he was inches from her face when her senses registered his presence. “Happy anniversary, beautiful,” he whispered. With a low purr, Jen pulled him to her. They hugged for a long while. “I love you,” she finally breathed into his ear. He squeezed her tighter. After all these years, he thought, she still owns my heart. While she lay in a mountain of warm cotton blankets, he dressed for work. “I’m really sorry I have to work late on our anniversary,” he told her. “Will you stop apologizing,” she said. “I told you, I understand.”

The author’s synopsis of his plot covers the highlights of the story: ‘Mac Anderson holds life in the palm of his hand. He has a beautiful wife, three loving children, a comfortable home and successful career. Everything is perfect—or so it seems. Tragically, Mac is destined to learn that any sense of security can quickly prove false. After a horrific auto accident, an invisible enemy called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) invades Mac’s fragile mind and drops him to his knees. He does all he can to conceal his inner-chaos, but to no avail. Left to contend with ignorance, an insensitive justice system and the struggles of an invisible disease, his family is taken from him. One shoebox might store an old pair of sneakers. Two shoeboxes could contain a lifetime of photographs. But in Three Shoeboxes, a father’s undying love may be just enough to make things right again.’

Steven is able to deliver difficult messages in a manner that signifies he is wise beyond his years. Each novel grows and with that Steven’s survey of the complete cycle of life. He will be around for a long time if there are more stories like this one to share. Grady Harp, June 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.