Thursday, November 15, 2007

My thoughts on Tom Sheehan

Tom Sheehan is the sort of writer and poet who comes along once in a reader's lifetime. He's one of the top five best writers in the world in my opinion. His work is stunning, powerful, humorous, shattering. So why isn't his name a household word? Why is mine the only review of this particular book on Amazon? Why hasn't he won the Pushcart Prize, despite several nominations? Sheehan has had well-deserved local and regional recognition, but not the attention his amazing work deserves. For this feature I chose A Collection of Friends for review.

A Collection of Friends
Short Stories by Tom Sheehan
ISBN-13: 978-1929763177
260 pages at 17.95 paperback
Pocol Press

According to one critic, Tom Sheehan is a "national treasure." After reading A Collection of Friends, I agree. This book is also a treasure. Sheehan writes with a kindly intimacy that welcomes readers into his life. His words are rich with cadence and imagery as he remembers the sounds, sights, scents, and ghostly voices from his years in Saugus, Mass. Several stories from his book were nominated for Pushcart Prizes and many more of them deserved to be.

In the Preface, Sheehan says of his friends: "Piecemeal, as entities, in my ear, clapping me on the back, giving me a push when needed, they have caused this book. I am indebted to them, those who have given my life all its savage joys." From a lovingly tended larder of memories, the author spins camera-clear stories of family, friends, war, town drunks, places and pleasures, long held sorrows. Each is a moving testimony to man's grit and pride or quiet acceptance of adversity. Every thing, every place, and every one become objects in Tom Sheehan's social laboratory. His experiences as a lad made him what he is today as writer in his eighth decade. He tells of hunger as if it were a living entity, and the "awful sense of exposure" borne of poverty. Sensory perceptions were absorbed in his youth like a sponge. Tragedies forgotten by others over time still live fresh in his mind and won't let go. Each story stands alone and is memorable in distinct ways. I give only a few examples due to space limitations

"The Dumpmaster's Boy" is one of several paeans to Sheehan's grandfather, who loved his fellow man, quoted Irish poets, wrote his own lyrical poetry, and longed to see his homeland Ireland one more time.

"Orion's Belt" is an unintended social commentary, a lesson in grace, strength, poverty, and snobbish cruelty with Sheehan's beautiful, dignified mother shining as a central figure.

"The Day Titanic Drowned", the memory of a powerful draft animal that drowned decades ago, is a standout. The day and the animal come alive through Sheehan's telling.

"Parkie, Tanker, Tiger of Tobruk" is a numbing account of desert survival circa WW 2, how one man escaped death in war only to die by inches for decades after his return to Saugus. (This one particular story has haunted me since first reading it and remains clear in my mind today.)

And "The Quiet, Empty Bedrooms of Saugus" was so beautifully written, so emotionally overwhelming that it must be read to fully comprehend.

Any words I write here are inadequate. Tom Sheehan treasures his memories. To quote the author, "The clarity stings the memory.... Somehow, inexplicably, it is soul deep, has pine aromas, the acrobatics of light, known temperature touching my face the way I recall the stand on a lone Korean outpost."

I've never been to Massachusetts, know nothing of Saugus or Tom Sheehan, but feel I know them well through A Collection of Friends. Any story or poem Tom Sheehan writes is exceptional and highly recommended.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

More of Tom Sheehan's work can be found in the pair of volumes A Gathering of Memories and Of Time and the River. He's also won the Saugus.net Halloween Ghost Story Contest a couple of times, so some of his prose is available online there.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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