In the Absence of Predators by Vinnie Wilhelm
-reviewed by Claire Venery
“In the Absence of Predators” is a collection of five short stories by Vinnie Wilhelm. The stories are poignantly written with interesting characters that lead the reader through a unique story with an unforeseen ending.
Wilhelm succinctly creates a haunting tone, especially in his story “White Dog,” where the narrator has premonitions through his dreams. One of these premonitions is the shooting of a horse and another is of whores singing to the characters of “love torn apart by violence.” It ends with someone else’s dream wandering away from them and the narrator’s admission that “to know the future is at once a great and terrible thing.”
Death is a theme that seems to permeate from one story to the next, but is processed in very different ways by the people in the experience. In the “Crying of the Gulls,” the myth of the Talking People gives the story an eerie twist, especially because Ogilvie is able to see Virginia’s dead mother, Corrine. Virginia whispers to Ogilvie that not everyone can hear the Talking People, but her mother could, and they told Corrine to go outside during a cold February night and that is how her mother died. When Ogilvie confesses to Virginia that he can hear the Talking People to she tells him that there is no such thing as talking people and that he needs help.
His stories also have an air of mystery, especially in “Fauntleroy’s Ghost.” The characters are flawed and like in the “Crying of the Gulls,” the readers find themselves questioning if what the character is seeing and relaying is actually the truth. Is Stucky’s friend Raskin truly caught up in a scandal that causes him to portray a man named Fauntleroy? Or is Stucky a sad, washed up writer who is creating delusions of grandeur?
The psychological workings of the mind are explored in “Cruelty to Animals,” where the main character, Mr. Kerwood, finds himself slowly sinking into madness. At first the reader has sympathy for this kind father figure who works hard and is there for his brother who is dealing with the stress of having a crazy wife named Rebecca. However, after Rebecca kills her pet Chinchillas by putting them in the dryer, Mr. Kerwood’s own sanity begins to fail, taking the story in an unexpected direction.
“In the Absence of Predators,” the last short story and inspiration of the title of the works, the story begins with the narrator hitting a deer and causing its death. This sparks a journey through the snow that leads him and the reader to the Twin Pines Diner where a group of unlikely people are brought together by chance and share incidents with death in their lives that was brought by the innocence of a deer. At the end of the story “there are hundreds of them: bucks, does, little knock-kneed fawns. There may be thousands, coming forward, their outlines gradually gaining faces, their dark eyes becoming visible, but still in perfect silence” and each represent a memory or regret that the characters have revealed through their tales.
Wilhelm’s unique style is complete with unorthodox characters and often ambiguous endings which take some getting used to, but once invested, his stories will take the reader on an unforgettable journey.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vinnie Wilhelm was born in New Haven, Connecticut. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the recipient of literary fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the National Endowment for the Arts. Wilhelm’s fiction has appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Harvard Review, Southern Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Philadelphia.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER:
Claire Venery is an undergraduate student majoring in English at the University of Montana. Claire was born and raised in Whitefish, Montana. Her interests lie in fiction but she is looking forward to expanding her literary knowledge while interning for CutBank Magazine