Led by an enigmatic narrator named Holly Buchannan -- who personifies the essence of life in Manhattan -- readers are led through stories of heartache, discover, loss, and redemption.

These short-shorts are vignettes of a larger whole, providing a snap-shot glimpse into crucial moments within a character's larger story. But they are the essence of those experiences, glimpsed through a pulled-back curtain. We spy where we oughtn't, and witness something familiar. 

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Still,Life:a collection of echoes

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Robin Meloy Goldsby, Author/Musician

In Still, Life, a collection of lyrical and lilting stories, Melissa examines--under the loop of her quirky microscope--the magic and madness of New York City.
 
My favorite piece, "Can You See the Whales?" tells the story of a young woman sitting on a bench overlooking the East River, contemplating the sadness of her lonely Manhattan life. Deep in a funk, out of money, and sure that the city has nothing left to offer, she contemplates her next move. At that moment,a whale leaps from the water, evoking joy and reminding her that Manhattan, in spite of its shroud of despair, does occasionally offer a gleaming moment or two.
 
At the end of the collection, one of Volker's characters deserts the city before it deserts her. This melancholic passage illustrates the essence of the collection's main theme: unrequited love for a place-- cloaked in glamour,powdered and polished and pushed-up to the max--that sends mixed messages to those with plain and fragile hearts.
 
"I shall miss you and think of you often; as I gaze at the spinning current of the river, each time I pass an upended trash can, its contents strewn like urban rose petals lightly across my path, in every child blowing streams of opalescent soap bubbles that find their way up to my fire escape...in the glow of the street light, scrap of paper in a puddle, a sunset reflecting off the cold steel of the Brooklyn Bridge."
   

Robin Spielberg, Author/Musician

When I was studying acting at NYU, I had a class where students engaged in "private moment" exercises.  

 

This would mean that each student would bring in the comforts of home and simply "be" in his or her space in front of the class. No "acting" was really involved. It was a deceptively difficult exercise. The student actors often felt the need to create drama where there was none and would later be admonished by the teacher.

 

The perfect "private moment exercise" usually involved the participant simply sitting in bed and reading a book while the class watched. It was as simple as that.
 
In Melissa Volker's story essays, "Still Life," we witness many private moments and thoughts of characters as they make decisions, day dream or reflect upon a relationship gone sour.

 

A man who remembers liking the rainstorms of his childhood reflects that now they remind him of the day his father died--his private sadness as he steps out into the rain is something only he will ever know. A gal new to town (in "Newcomer") wonders what her neighbors think of her.  (Don't we all wonder that?)

 

We read her perspective, but Volker also lets us know what they each really do think of the newcomer. Volker puts the reader right into their heads so we see each perspective and of course they are all different yet ring true at the same time.
 
Volker's romantic and nostalgic nature shines through in her piece"Gatsby II" in which she frowns on the digital age that is pushing everything faster. Her observation that the world is "in desperate need of artists and poets and painters, those in love with the gentler aspects of life," is something I relate to on a daily basis. The intuitive magic that occurs in intimate relationships is demonstrated in the short and sweet"Asteroid, Ambulances, and Angels," where a couple is so in tune with one another that danger is sensed and known even when the lovers are apart.
 
My favorite part of this collection of essays is Volker's gentle reminder that lovely and beautiful details in life are here in front of us all the time, and it is our job to notice them. And if we do, our lives will be richer.

 

Volker writes that artists "soften the edges of our society." Still Life does exactly that through the written word.
  

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© 2016 Melissa Volker

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