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The Brink: Stories


The Brink: Stories

A good short story is every bit as complex and complete as a good novel. Austin Bunn, in his short story collection and fiction debut, goes one step further, giving readers 10 great ones. The subject matter and characters in THE BRINK are varied, but Bunn's powerfully straightforward writing style and unblinking look at emotion and motivation unify them all. From an insider perspective of a doomsday cult to the last day of a video game, and from the motivations of a would-be rapist to a father's terrible discovery, THE BRINK challenges readers in all the right ways, asking them to look at situations both bizarre and ordinary and attempt to understand the characters placed in those scenarios.

Marriage and familial relationships are explored in many of the stories here. A tropical honeymoon finds newlyweds in a world beyond their understanding in “Getting There & Away.” “Everything All at Once,” on the other hand, is about the end of a marriage as well as a tricky mother-daughter relationship. In it, a 41-year-old woman mourns the loss of her partnership while wrestling with a new understanding of her eccentric elderly mother. Both stories have moments of sweetness and emotional revelation balanced with moments of fear and unease.

"Bunn's first outing, a diverse examination of the human condition, is impressive, enjoyable, provocative and brave."

In “How to Win an Unwinnable War,” young Sam is invited to attend a summer school for gifted children and chooses a course called “How to Win a Nuclear War.” The course centers on a game, led by a professor but ruled by a domineering boy in a wheelchair, where attacks are carried out and countries destroyed. Outside of the class, Sam is dealing with the fallout of his parents’ divorce, his father's sadness and his mother's new relationship.

“Griefer” is the story of the end days of an all-consuming online video game. In it, Josh, like Sam, is both living in the world of fantasy gaming and having a hard time dealing with real life. Having lost his job because of his gaming, his marriage is now suffering. Yet he struggles to pull himself away from “Also,” even as an insidious and dangerous presence makes itself known, not wanting to lose his connection to a new player. This tension between external circumstance and the often secret feelings of the characters is a theme that is found in several of Bunn's stories, but each time it is explored in a new way, so the collection never feels repetitive.

Endings, whether that of relationships, of innocence, or of the world, also appear again and again in THE BRINK. Perhaps the most frightening and inventive example of this is “The End of the Age is Upon Us,” in which the narrator, writing to the object of his affection, is a member of the Heaven's Gate cult, preparing for their group suicide. Written in a disarming fashion, and with a mounting sense of dread, the letters from Michael to Leah examine the draw to the cult as an answer to the difficulties of mundane life, the power of a charismatic leader, and how love and affection threaten Michael's convictions about the end of the world. It is a strange and lovely story, and Bunn deftly handles the subject matter, never allowing it to become too bizarre or comical.

“Ledge” is singular in THE BRINK as the only speculative or fantasy tale. Our narrator here is a 15th-century Spanish man at sea on the exploration ship the Elena. When the ship and crew come to the end of the ocean, and the ledge of the world, they find that they can breach the threshold between life and death and bring the dead back from purgatory. It is a surreal and compelling story but told in the same plain manner as the other selections here.

All in all, Bunn's first outing, a diverse examination of the human condition, is impressive, enjoyable, provocative and brave. Even readers who believe short stories to be just a taste compared to the full meal of a novel will find much deliciousness to digest in this fantastic collection.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on May 8, 2015

The Brink: Stories
by Austin Bunn

  • Publication Date: April 28, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0062362615
  • ISBN-13: 9780062362612