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Saturday, May 9, 2020

A Boy in a Park by Richard Parkin (Reviewed by David Stewart)



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There is a theme to Richard Parkin's collection of short stories, and I write not only of the obvious titular link between each tale. These stories all tell of loss in one way or another, and also of persistence. The title A Boy in a Park, is an apt title, but the subtitle, Tales of Wonder and Despair perhaps rings more true to the heart of these yarns. I might argue that the despair outweighs the wonder because these stories are full of the kind of sadness that only living alone can bring. The boy in the park is everyone who has ever had to make their way along in the world without the help of others, longingly wishing they had someone to share the journey with. I struggled, at times, to find the metaphors clearly buried within these tales, but that one at least felt apparent.

Parkin's prose is effective, even beautiful at times, and he presents his various boys in similar ways while making them all feel slightly different. A Boy in a Park is a collection of ten different children, all living in very English-style parks, though location is never overtly mentioned. There are common elements weaving into many of these stories. Girls riding away on bicycles is mentioned in two of the them, and horticulture is a near-ever present canopy (as it should be in a park). As readers, we don't often see the autobiographical nature of stories without knowing the writer in an intimate way, but I would be surprised if you told me that Parkin had not developed a childhood crush on a girl riding a red bike.

But while these stories are pleasant and well written, I did struggle with the why of it all. Why tell these stories? I never found a common enough thread through the tales to link them, despite their similar settings. At times, I even felt like this was a writing exercise, as though I were in a creative fiction class and the assignment was to pen tales of boys in parks. That is not to say that there is not value in what is written, but I tend to prefer to spend my time on fantasy that feels more robust.

I will not deny that there is wonder here. The last tale in particular, "Yellow Frog," tells about two people who find one another through apparent drug use, and the lure of being able to forget about the world in a haze of feel-good stupor. That seems like a heavy subject when the majority of the characters in Parkin's work are children, but it is told in an Alice in Wonderland type of way that dulls the harder edge of its message. I also quite liked "The Heron Man," a tale of showmanship and what happens when a performer disrespects his or her fellow showmen (or in this case, show-herons).

A Boy in a Park, despite potentially lacking any deeper meaning, is well worth reading. Parkin knows his way around the written word, and if nothing else this collection is a primer for what I hope might be a larger work in the future.

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