No Landscape Lasts Forever
By Amber Colleen Hart
Elixir Press, 2016
132 pages, $19
Reviewed by Jordan Carter
Amber Colleen Hart’s debut collection, No Landscape Lasts Forever, is made up of short stories all terse, most elegiac, others humorous—like “Animal Husbandry’s” anecdote about a human and her dating life with animals—or dystopian: a 1984-esque group of Believers who push for conversion, even and especially in the time of death. But the best stories in this collection are those about the mundane: a therapy session between a gay man and his alcoholic-in-recovery brother, the empty life of Cody Dolan, a kid trying to cope after his dad split, or the even emptier lives of two sisters picked up by CPS.
“Who cares what travesties we can foist upon one another. Just think of what we can do to ourselves. That shit never makes the news” (“Which Way to Run” 16).
Hard and fast encounters with characters like these caught up in the “lonely circle between wanting and not having” drive this work. Such a character is Tripp, from “Who We Belong To,” who spent time deciding whether to kill himself or ride up to the new Dollar General. Stories like these are able to exist because of the past’s domain over the present. Hart’s stories are ones in which the present owns only a few paragraphs. While the majority of the works are told through memory or flashback, Hart’s seamless control of time puts the reader in scene with the character.
“Which Way to Run,” the collection’s first short story, is told from a point of view so close we too can smell the Kools. “I was drunk the day Lorraine got out of prison.” And in the time it takes Libby to put down that pint of Jack Daniels, the author moves the reader seamlessly through the past from a dead (?) or dead-beat dad to an absent, drug-addicted mother, her Mercedes-driving boyfriend/dealer, to a spat with Rhonda, a neighbor more motherly than Libby’s own, to an “accident,” all the way up to the billy club in Lorrain’s back. The reader, like Libby, floats outside of herself watching intently, mesmerized.
Another story that hums with want is “Who We Belong To.” Spoiler: Tripp doesn’t kill himself. We ride along with him to the Dollar General where he runs into Hickey, a character come to life in a few lines of dialogue. It feels wrong to leave him standing there, but Tripp’s mind is elsewhere. He’s trying to answer the titular question, to whom do we belong? He’s thinking about Mandy, his girlfriend who just left him, and Jordie, her son, not his. He’s haunted by images of them, Mandy in her panties and t-shirt, Jordie smiling and holding a matchbox car. But remember, in these stories, it is the past that has domain. “In between Mandy and Jordie popping into my mind were these snippets of my little brother Birdy and me playing catch the day he died. This has been stuck in my mind for going on sixteen years, playing like a picture reel, running all the damn time in the background of my life” (“Who We Belong To” 57). And this past—the cast iron handle hitting hard against the kettle of boiling oil, the smell of flesh dripping off the bone, still bubbling, the slap of the apron on Birdy’s skin, it latching on, pulling away in long threads—this is the past that Tripp belongs to. We accept him this way with no pretense and feel empathy for him as he pours that last glass of sweet tea.
Amber Colleen Hart shows us that indeed no landscape lasts forever, particularly the landscape of the page. Be warned: This collection leaves the reader in that same lonely circle of wanting and not having more, more, more.