- Excellent First Anthology Review by Ray Watchman
Ray Watchman, Manawatu Standard, 11/5/2013
As a literary genre, the short story can too often be perceived by the public as a minority interest and thus many gems are left languishing on bookshop shelves – if indeed they even find their way on to them these days, given the commercial pressures now bearing down on publishers and book retailers.
It is encouraging then, to discover this excellent first anthology of 12 short stories by expatriate Kiwi author John Parkyn being stocked by local independent bookseller Bruce McKenzie, widely respected for his sustained loyalty to New Zealand writers and publishers. It remains now, for lovers of good, accessible, yarns to ensure Don Vicente’s Daughter and Other Stories has a deservedly short shelf life.
Born in Dunedin, John Parkyn’s early foray into the world of creative writing came during his time as editor of the Victoria University literary magazine Argot in the early-mid 1960s, thereafter working for many years in journalism. Developing a deep interest in Latin America and its peoples, he left New Zealand in 1995 to settle in Mexico, where he lives with his Mexican wife Elizabeth in the city of Morelia.
Unsurprisingly then, these dramatic tales are set primarily in Mexico, with others in Nicaragua, Cuba and the writer’s home country. The title story sits as the centrepiece, with the rest arranged around it as with a colourful mosaic.
When it comes to dealing with the human condition and issues of social justice, the art of good storytelling requires that the story be free to tell itself, the narrative relying on its own power to convey whatever the moral might be. Having sufficient faith in the story to resist the temptation to sermonise requires of the writer a high level of maturity, integrity and craftsmanship.
This criterion accepted, Parkyn is a superbly engaging storyteller, doubly well served by his finely honed journalistic skills and the fact he is an outsider looking in on an often turbulent and violent exotic environment. Thus, his voice is that of the restrained narrator, not the crusading commentator; the perceptive compassionate observer, not the clumsy moralising intruder.
Nowhere does Parkyn exploit for the sake of sensationalism the sufferings of Latin American people victimised by oppression, organised crime, systemic injustices and corruption. To the contrary, he turns his own sense of outrage to constructive purposes by illuminating their plight through this collection of meticulously observed, robustly constructed stories.
The narrative throughout is clear and purposeful, carefully paced and free of laboured contrivance. There is plenty of light, shade and local colour to keep the stories from being consumed by the blackness of Mexico’s social underbelly – a skilful balance that does credit to Parkyn’s abilities as a wordsmith, given the issues he is working with much of the time.
My only gripe, if indeed it is one, is that the compelling title story, Don Vicente’s Daughter, has been distilled by the writer into short story form. Exploring the impact of Mexico’s murderous drug cartels on the lives of ordinary people, it is a powerful, sweeping, multi-layered tale rich in vivid characters and relationships which, to my mind, warrants development into what I am sure would be an important novel.
I asked an expat Mexican teacher friend of my wife to read Don Vicente’s Daughter and give me her honest opinion.
“That’s Mexico; that’s how it is,” she said.
What better accolade than that could there be?
(Posted on 12/05/2013)
- Dramatically atmospheric Review by Louise O'Brien, 'New Zealand Books'
Some excerpts: John Parkyn’s first collection of short stories, Don Vicente’s Daughter and Other Stories, is an affectionate collection of yarns set in contemporary South America…But it’s the expatriate perspective which is defining, framing his depiction of a land which is exotic, colourful, and always distinctly foreign…the depictions of local scenes and people are finely observed and very detailed. The dozen stories which make up this collection are dramatically atmospheric and rendered in vivid local colour…evocative images are set in startling juxtaposition with a social underbelly of poverty, political corruption, and the horrifically violent drug trade…
The writing is at its best when the narrator is self-consciously the outsider, describing experiences across cultures…For, in Parkyn’s stories, it is the outsider who is best placed to see the systemic and institutionalized injustices which plague everyday life in South America, so inured are its inhabitants, so preoccupied by daily survival. The frustration and anger in the stories are thus also more often located in the outside voice, for whom the horror is not normalised. Across the collection, the narrative voice focuses strongly and despairingly on those ordinary people who suffer under a succession of oppressive regimes. Don Vicente’s Daughter and Other Stories is approachable and unchallenging, with a clear and consistent theme, and neatly conventional in structure. A straightforward linear narrative of beginning, middle and end carries the reader effortlessly along, and even when events are indeterminate, their intended lesson is not.
(Posted on 13/03/2013)
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