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The Memory of Trees

Wait At Woods’ Edge, Cover

Wait at Woods’ Edge
by John Hugon Perryman

Nacogdoches: Stephen F. Austin State University Press.
146 pp. $20 paperback.

Reviewed by
Destiny Darling

John Hugon Perryman’s latest story collection, Wait at Woods’ Edge, explores the human reaction to epiphany and discovery. The six pieces in this book vary in location and time, but they all contain the narratives of complex and earnest characters as they wrestle with the history and culture they inhabit. Perryman plays with structure within this collection, including large portions of dialogue, and stories that are split into several sections that connect at the end. We also see a variety of subjects, from a graduate student in Dallas to a murderer in New York City, providing intriguing perspectives. These distinctive characters and settings work to understand the emotions and actions of learning from our failures.

   The title story uses magical realism and natural history to explore events centering on Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas. “Wait at Woods’ Edge” mostly focuses on two characters: an emu and a little girl. Separated through several short scenes and flashbacks, the story pulls together the full scope of the narrative, which suggests “that man and dinosaur and gods had in some strange way coexisted from the start.” The language here has bright moments, and I love seeing moving parts connect within this narrative as the characters work to get “unstuck” from their pasts. The use of magical realism adds a weight to this story as we watch the past and present connect; however, the flashback sections are overburdened and lengthy compared to the other sections. The story is spread too thin, and some moving parts never seemed to connect.

   “The Tutor” focuses on the dynamic between Katie, a nine-year-old daughter of upper-class parents, and her tutor, Chris. Katie and Chris form a strong bond as Chris grows fond of Katie, whom he describes as “scrappy, a real firecracker.” However, this bond is not enough to shield either of them from the ruthlessness of the Dallas elite and their agendas. “The Tutor” portrays the stark juxtaposition between the rich and the struggling, the overdeveloped suburbs and the college towns in North Texas, which are explored through Chris’s perspective. This story had some of the best characterizations as Chris and Kate both felt genuine in their dialogue and actions. As a graduate from a university in the North Texas area myself, the college towns of small bookstores and coffee shops felt jarring next to the massively developed, higher class communities surrounding Dallas. This story does an excellent job of connecting these environments.

   The final story, “The Dead Watch,” is a fictionalization of the final days of Henry Adams, a descendent of two presidents and a commemorated researcher, author, and historian in his time. In his final years, Henry Adams spends his summers in Paris, where he devotes his time and resources towards many academic projects, but none as important as his search for the correct translation and composition of a medieval song, which “no human ear had heard…properly sung in over five hundred years.” This is one of the best stories in this collection. It earnestly captures Adams’s character as he wrestles with an aging mind and his constant obsession with understanding history and life. This story also ties elements of the past and present as we see Adams’s current life connect with his search for the historical, “history was always a construct and a working up of legend, and its only justification was its aesthetic quality.” Perryman has captured Adams’s aesthetic in an authentic and emotional characterization.

“The Dead Watch” has an emotional depth I wish was more consistent within the other stories. While there were expertly crafted plots with strong characters, I wanted more emotion and passion. Scenes that needed tense or impassioned language were lacking, leaving me feeling dry after certain stories, despite the intensity of the plot. However, this is compensated by the bright moments we get through characterization and dialogue. This collection captures important aspects of life as it explores the fallout after discovery and the path towards reconciliation.

Destiny Darling is a graduate student at Texas State University.