J.W. Nicklaus is a word artist. He paints mental pictures with lyrical prose. The Light, The Dark & Ember Between is a collection of 15 short stories whose concurrent theme centers on finding hope in death. Nicklaus' writing is dense with meaning. It is not trivial, light reading. His sentences are filled with complexity in a style that encourages the reader to slow down and savor each word. Each page demands a reader's full attention in order to grasp the vivid emotional catharsis experienced by the characters. Death is a heavy subject, but the participants in each story offer a different look at it. They don't succumb to the darkness, but instead grasp for the light. They are able to persevere thanks, in part, to the deeper insight gained from their travails.
The four standout pieces include:
Emissary–After losing his wife in a freak boating accident, a widower begins to experience supernatural occurrences. In coming to terms with the meaning behind these events, he is able for the first time to open up to his son and daughter-in-law about his pain and confusion. This release allows him not to fear these visitations, but welcome them. In trying to find some sense of peace, he embraces these communications from the beyond. They give him a glimmer of hope that she is still there with him in some form. The sensory details–from the coastal setting to the breakfast table–are right on the money transporting the reader directly into the story's setting.
Requiem for Linny–With the passing of a cowboy's wife, her death is felt by every man on the ranch. In the Colorado mountains, they prepare her grave beneath a snow-covered tree, a place she selected beforehand. Her husband tries to restrain his grief by hand carving a wooden cross for the site. When his brother calls, a long-held secret is revealed. While forgiveness is hard to come by, the presence of the deceased continues to be felt in a very powerful way. Nicklaus excels in describing gruff, stoic men succumb to their emotions and express what they are feeling.
Winter Rose–An American solider and British child are thrown together in the aftermath of a World War I bombing raid. The young private finds the injured child amidst the rubble and takes her to the army medic. A strong attachment quickly forms between the two. It is touching to witness the girl clinging to the soldier as he becomes her last lifeline to safety and comfort. She does not know if her parents are alive or dead. She is lost and alone, but for the young American at her side. The men at the base are far from home as they try to celebrate the Christmas holiday. The presence of the child adds meaning to their endeavor as they shower her with whatever trinkets they have at their disposal. Although her future is uncertain, for one night the Americans become her family.
One Washington Diner–What happens when we die? Where do we go? Who do we meet? Nicklaus explores this premise from a side angle. A man wanders into a diner. He feels an immediate connection to the waitress that he can't explain. As they banter back and forth like they have known each other for years, an elderly gentlemen takes a seat at the counter challenging the man's ideas of what is real. The scene suddenly shifts to a hospital room. The man wasn't in a diner. He was in a car accident. The diner exists only as a way station between life and death. Yet the waitress is there keeping vigil at his bedside. She is his wife. The inexplicable tie between love and life is a promise that he will thwart death to fulfill.
Overall, a rich and varied collection that explores the place between life and death.
The Light, The Dark & Ember Between by J.W. Nicklaus is available for $18.00 at Amazon.com and at Avomnia.com.
Review copy provided by J.W. Nicklaus.
Congratulations to our winner: Anita Yancey!