The characters in ‘The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead,’ Benz’s wildly imaginative debut, are as varied as any in recent literature, but they share a thirst for adventure which sends them rushing full-tilt toward the moral crossroads, becoming victims and perpetrators along the way.
Chanelle Benz shared a kaleidoscope of short stories in her oddly named book, ‘The Man Who Shot Out My Eye is Dead.’ The first two stories annoyed me to no end because of the lack of appropriate grammar; mainly the lack of quotation marks in dialogue. Most of the stories are missing details as if they were poorly translated from another language and many important details got lost in the translation. The first two stories were the worst, each story got progressively more detailed, and some even had a substantial ending. Most of the time spent reading this book I felt like I was inside the author’s head, but she had left most of the doors locked.
The first short story, ‘West of the Known,’ is about a half brother who rescues his sister, Lavenia, from an appalling life with her aunt and uncle, where her cousin was sexually abusing her. Jackson promises to care for Lavenia from this point on since their parents are dead and gone. Instead, he forces his sister to join him as a fugitive in the Wild West, where she spends most of her time with a whore before their crimes catch up with them.
‘Adela’ is a short story of unrequited love gone wrong. A small group of children decide to help Adela find her lost love and win him back into her affections. The children plot, without all the facts as children usually do, to bring another man into the mix and make her true love jealous. Their plan is successful in that they have made the ex jealous but the new love wants a marriage. Before long, Adela’s sordid past is brought into the mix, foiling the children’s attempt to bring her a happily ever after.
‘Accidental’ follows Lucy, a mid-thirties woman chased by regret and looking for her dad. Her mom wants a divorce before cancer ends her life, and Lucy is the only one who can get her dad to sign the papers. The trip to Mobile takes her back to her first love, the father of her son, while reminding her of an accident that changed her life forever.
‘The Diplomat’s Daughter’ follows Natalia on a missionary trip where she is abused during a raid before befriending a mercenary and working with him. Navigating through several years of her life, Natalia recounts the rocky relationship with her sister and parents.
‘The Peculiar Narrative of the Remarkable Particulars in the Life of Orrinda Thomas’ tells of Orrinda, the slave who was bought by Mr. Crawford for her acute intelligence and to be rid of abusive owners in the 1840s. So familiar was their relationship, that Mr. Crawford bought a slave to free at Orrinda’s behest; a decision they all soon come to regret.
In ‘James III,’ we find a young child beaten with a broken nose looking for help. He finds Wallace, an empathetic child, close in age, ready to assist. James makes his way to his aunt’s house seeking solace from his abusive stepfather, terrified for his mom and brothers lives. A visit to his father in prison does little to assuage his fears.
‘Snake Doctors’ tells of brother and sister who mourn the loss of their mother to cancer. Robert, with his pregnant wife and sister by his side, say goodbye to their mother in her casket before his sister Izabel decides the doctor, who tricked their mother out of her life’s fortune with the minute promise of a cure without surgery, needed to pay the ultimate price for his weak promises.
Emmeline has just buried her husband in ‘Mourners,’ after having previously buried two young children to the same illness that took her love. With a baby on her hip, Emmeline returns to her father’s town, at his bequest, when he lines up a new husband. She leaves her toddler, Jacob, behind in the care of her mother-in-law and nurse. When Jacob falls ill, and Emmeline cannot return in time to care for him, she loses all hope.
‘Recognition’ tests Lee’s past, forcing him to remember a traumatic childhood alongside a stranger, Sydney, whom he distantly recognizes. At the site of a catastrophe, a large group of varied people meet to examine the fatal site of several reclusive families, while Lee focuses on understanding how he and Sydney relate.
The final story, ‘That We May All Be One Sheefolde, or, Saeculum Corruptissium,’ is about a nineteen-year-old monk abandoned at birth. The King dissolves his monastery and the young monk, Jerome, loses the life he is used to and seeks revenge, despite his pious life.
The sheer range of Benz’s vocation shows she has talent but the translation to paper leaves something to be desired. One story failed to give the readers an ending; another was written to replicate the 1800s, another I had no clue until several pages in if the protagonist was a man or woman. One story thought quite highly of itself and employed footnotes on superfluous details instead of providing useful information in the text. I do not believe my requirements are overreaching when I simply want to be able to understand published work, meant not for the scholar but the everyday person. Benz is gifted at grabbing attention, the first few pages of each story were very rewarding, but then she must assume we can see inside their head and decides she is not accountable for providing necessary information to follow each story.
Final thoughts: some of the characters are very easy to identify with, each story is even enjoyable, but the ball drops with the ending, which is either too abrupt or lacking vital thoughts. If I were to read this book again, which is not likely to happen, I would read only ‘James III,’ ‘Snake Doctors,’ ‘Mourners,’ and ‘Recognition.’ I would rather read one well thought out story with a complete ending than ten short stories with too much of the story left out. Also, this is not the 1500s or the 1800s, can we please leave the “thou’s” and other dated writing styles in the past?
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