Review of Hopeful Monsters by Roger McKnight Written by Dan Stubbings

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Book Synopsis

Hopeful Monsters: Profound Book of Short Stories Explores Humanity Through Lens of Minnesotans. Roger McKnight’s ‘Hopeful Monsters’ is a beautiful collection of short stories, reflecting on Minnesota people, that takes readers on a journey through pain, defeat, triumph and hope. Covering social issues including immigration, race and social injustice – McKnight showcases humanity through the periscope of one of the United States’ most unique groups of people.

Roger McKnight’s debut collection depicts individuals hampered by hardship, self-doubt, and societal indifference, who thanks to circumstance or chance find glimmers of hope in life’s more inauspicious moments. Hopeful Monsters is a fictional reflection on Minnesota’s people that explores the state’s transformation from a homogeneous northern European ethnic enclave to a multi-national American state. Love, loss, and longing cross the globe from Somalia and Sweden to Maine and Minnesota as everyday folk struggle for self-realization. Idyllic lake sides and scorching city streets provide authentic backdrops for a collection that shines a flickering light on vital global social issues. Read and expect howling winds, both literal and figurative, directed your way by a writer of immense talent.

Review

Upon opening Hopeful Monsters Roger’s voice bursts off every page like a lightening bolt begging you to listen. His voice is a road map helping us peel away the hidden meanings behind his words. It felt almost at times as if he was giving me a social commentary on our current climate. Presenting stories that focused attention on several problems throughout the world that effect everyone in one form or another.

One story that struck this point home most was a story called September Mist. A story of two people who love each other deeply but because of race and other circumstances can never truly be together. Roger’s words seem effortless as he conveys the struggle these two face to be accepted within their respected communities before they can even begin to see a future together. A line that stood out for me on this theme was “Yes, some places black folks don’t go very often-not that we can’t-we just don’t” said by Eve. One of the two main voices in the story when encountering glances from a white gentleman in a restaurant. I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the segregation of blacks in the 1950s in the US and wonder whether Roger was trying to get the reader to realise that unfortunately some of these longheld prejudices have never truly left the modern world.

A story which I have read countless times was Rain Shadow. The story centres around a group of homeless people who tackle daily battles with each other as well as their own demons. Roger explores many different problems that impact upon the group from addiction to helping draw one another back from the brink. The reason I keep coming back to it is because of its rawness. Roger presents in sixteen pages, a hollowing account of what it truly means to be homeless when all you have is your own thoughts and a few friends to keep you sane. Nothing feels overexaggerated or put in simply for dramatic affect. The scary thing is he was only scratching the surface.

Addiction is a theme that Roger revisits numerous times using different characters throughout the collection to display his message. Roger paints the corrupt forms that addiction takes in a way that I haven’t encountered previously. He uses addiction as a hook to help show the depths that a person will go to get their fix regardless of the consequences. Whether it is relationship break down, loss of their job, or their kids being taken away. Yet he does it in a way that never comes across as judgemental showing the reader that even the best person can make the wrong decision.

This truth is displayed wonderfully in a story called Iago where our character goes to the pits of society in search of what he thinks is eternal bliss. I felt this was the most powerful story in the whole collection as it demonstrates the dark horror of drugs. Exposing the reader to the wide spreading effects addiction can have on a community in a sensitive and eye-opening verse that forces you to push the boundaries on what you think you know.

What I adored most about Hopeful Monsters was the fact that Roger highlighted the plight of several vulnerable groups within his stories. He wasn’t afraid to discuss sensitive topics such as suicide, homelessness, addiction, and mental health creating an array of intriguing characters and scenarios to give a voice to the forgotten in our society.

Every story seems to be centred around some key universal themes that help to create a narrative that explores the hidden corners of the mind and society. Begging the question how much has really changed? For me Hopeful Monsters is more than a short story collection. It is a memoir of how different life choices can set a person down a path that sometimes they cannot return from. I look forward to reading more of Roger as this collection was a work of art. It receives 5 stars. A must read.

I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

About the Author

roger

Roger McKnight hails from Little Egypt, a traditional farming and coal-mining
region in downstate Illinois. He studied and taught English in Chicago, Sweden,
and Puerto Rico. Swedes showed Roger the value of human fairness and gender
equity, while Puerto Ricans displayed the dignity of their island culture before the
tragedy of Hurricane Maria and the US government’s shameful post-disaster
neglect of the island’s populace. Roger relocated to Minnesota and taught Swedish and Scandinavian Studies. He now lives in the North Star State.

 

 

 

Extract from Lifeshocks by Sophie Sabbage Posted By Dan Stubbings

Extract

Just In Case

As the targeted radiation continues to strike my brain, the hours replenish themselves. I am no longer judging this experience one way or the other. It is what it is and I am in it. Letting go. I have entrusted my beautiful brain to a team of strangers who are monitoring it every second to ensure I am still Sophie at the end of the procedure. And as I recognise this reality, gratitude dawns and spreads across my chest. This is what cancer does. It repeatedly brings my need for control to its knees.

All my life I have encountered Something Greater in the ebb more than the flow. From early on, I needed to march into the world not away from it, to find the sacred in the slime and grace in loss and peace on the other side of pain. I have never encountered the divine by going to a church or temple. I find it in those ‘lifeshock’ moments when what is really so confronts what I believe is so – until all the bullshit is shaken loose.

This is what Dr Brown, whom I knew as ‘Brad’, taught me: to look for specifics in a shit-storm; to pick one crest of one wave out of the rolling surf, the one that picks me by catching my attention more than the others; to hone in on a precise moment within the whole cascading experience. Not cancer, but ‘twenty-seven brain tumours’; not the loss of my books but the words, ‘I threw them away’; not date rape, but the bruises on my thighs after a night I couldn’t remember; not Gamma Knife radiotherapy, but the sight of a metal helmet screwed to my head like a vice when I looked in the mirror.

This is a lifeshock: a moment in time when something happens that you didn’t want or expect.

The specificity of these moments is very important. The mind loves to analyse events retrospectively, interpreting what happened by looking back on it and drawing conclusions. This is why some people spend years in counselling, trying to figure out the causes of their pain (which is a great way of not feeling the pain). Analysis does not reliably access the unconscious mind, which mostly stays hidden because that’s where it likes to stay.

When Brad was a practising therapist, he realised that taking people back to a specific lifeshock moment, and asking them to re-experience it, instantly unlocked their emotions and unconscious ‘mindtalk’ (what we tell ourselves about any given thing). It is like opening a file on a hard drive. This is because the thoughts and feelings we had at the time, which went unnoticed, are sealed in the memory of a single instant. You may have observed those occasions when you tell someone a story about something that happened in your life and, as you speak about the particulars, your feelings surface again, sometimes with great force. What I am describing is a way to invite emotions and mindtalk to surface very deliberately so that we see them in the clear light of day. This is a way to access the unconscious at will.

We get dozens of lifeshocks a day, some more significant than others. We allow many to bounce off us, unnoticed. We perceive them through our senses: we hear, see, smell, taste and touch them. They are external to us, appearing as empirical data and colliding with our internal expectations of how things should be. They are out of our control. Through lifeshocks, factual reality knocks on the door of personal reality, inviting us to realign with it, like sailors responding to sudden changes in the

wind direction by adjusting their sails. Discovering how to do so on a daily basis, while awakening and evolving in the process, is one of the primary purposes of this book.

Sometimes lifeshocks need to get very loud before we hear them. Sometimes we need to look death in the eye to realise what we want to make of living. Sometimes we don’t keep our promises until it is nearly too late. We think we have time. We get distracted. We doubt we can live up to our self-imposed standards. Until now, I haven’t known how to write about what Brad taught me and do it justice. He didn’t even do that himself. I’ve tried a few times and came closest in my first book, The Cancer Whisperer. But that didn’t express its true essence, just as it didn’t express the most sacred aspects of my relationship with cancer.

Lying in this machine is a thundering wake-up call to remind me I am ready. I don’t need to write the book he might have written or attempt to emulate him in the process. There is a story to tell that integrates various wisdoms I have collected along the way, including my own. I have found my own voice.

My mind quietens and something stirs in the stillness. I breathe. I listen. I wait.

Extract from Lifeshocks by Sophie Sabbage, published by Hodder, priced £17.99.