There is something about characters coming into contact with something larger than themselves that makes for particularly compelling fiction. I don’t mean events larger than themselves, more of reaching for aspects of existence that transcend the experience in their particular world. Call it what you will: the other, god, correlated contents; that outward reaching seems to cause some kind of magnetic imbalance, tugging the reader inward inversely to the outward reaching of the characters.
The reaching of the characters in the stories of Jeff Gardiner’s A Glimpse of the Numinous certainly exerted that kind of pull for me. A man who finds a way to make his fears visible in order to face them? A woman approached by a stranger who claims to be in love with her and know everything about her? A boy who finally reaches out to a friend without awareness or concern regarding what the darkness in his own life will bring about? I like fiction about ordinary lives as much as the next person, but I cannot deny the pull of “the other.”
The opening portion of the title story is actually a wonderful way to explain how it felt to start reading this book:
“We haven’t made love for over a year now. Then one day a few weeks ago I was quite shocked when Helen began to masturbate in bed beside me in the early hours of the morning…But the first time this happened, her moaning woke me and I thought she was having nightmares but when I tried to shake her she pushed me away. In the darkness I could hear and feel her reaching climaxes of ecstasy that she had certainly never experienced with me.
Dan paused for a while and would not catch my eye, for which I was grateful, as I wasn’t really sure I wanted to hear this, but it was too late to stop him now.
The narrator’s response in this scene mirrors my own reaction when I started reading A Glimpse of the Numinous. Indeed, Gardiner was telling me strange things, things I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear, but by that point there was no question of stopping him. I had no choice but to follow along.
Reflecting on this, I would have imagined a whole collection of stories like this would be somewhat similar. However, this is far from the case with A Glimpse of the Numinous. My personal favorite, “Bred in the Bone,” is one of the darker stories in the book. Told from the perspective of a little boy, it is definitely a horror-type story. This contrasts with some of the romantic yearning related stories of the book, centered on a variety of men and women. Of course, this portion of “Writer’s Block” demonstrates that there is also humor: “To have married one exploding wife was unfortunate, but to have married two was just getting silly.”
What’s not to like? Well-written strangeness is always a quick way to my heart. Stories that don’t give me any choice but to keep reading have an advantage on me as well. Given all that, there was no way I wasn’t going to be fond of Jeff Gardiner’s A Glimpse of the Numinous. It’s a collection that people really should reach for.
David S. Atkinson received his MFA from the University of Nebraska. His writing appears in Grey Sparrow, Interrobang?!, Atticus Review, and others. His book, Bones Buried in the Dirt, is forthcoming in March. His website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time as a patent attorney.