By Crystal Mackenzie
No Call Too Small
by Oscar Martens
Oscar Martens’ No Call Too Small is a collection of short stories about moments: a flash, if you will, into pivotal moments of a life. In the title story the reader witnesses the moment a police officer must choose between loyalty to another officer who has committed a serious crime and honouring the badge he wears. This officer is no bad cop, but he is human, and this moment where “[n]obody’s a criminal yet. Nobody’s a liar. Maybe if we stand still we can maintain this pure state, three cops holding ridged against the future,” (7) is the final moment before his career changes, at best, or, he changes, at worst. It’s a tense first tale in the book and it sets the stage for what is to come.
From here we go on to meet Farah, whose boyfriend once made her laugh, but now “makes her face sag. Close to him she feels extreme gravity, a black hole that breaks her down” (15); Little Dana, forced to help her father with his ill-judged business plan, sitting on a Ferris wheel, “[h]er smile . . . on maximum voltage, her teeth hurting from the pressure, her cheeks beginning to ache”(52) in an attempt to convince others she is having fun; Carl, the janitor mistaken for the new high school principal, who fires himself for not showing up to work; and others standing at their crossroads.
Martens’ storytelling gets into the crux of these critical moments. He shows the reader what desperation and loneliness feels like without ever telling us his characters are alone or desperate. He sneaks the reader up to the windows of their lives, a little voyeurism in the prose, where we witness the ugly side of family, the desperation of men, and the difficult decisions of a life, once on a slow, planned out course, now drifting closer to a cliff. The stories breathe, leaving the reader room to contemplate their own feelings or parallels to the characters and situations. These expertly crafted stories are the perfect read for either a cold night sitting by the fire where one can devour them all at once, or, read over a longer period of time, enjoying one, then reflecting on it before beginning the next.
Crystal Mackenzie is a writer and editor from Calgary, Alberta. She is the Editor in Chief of FreeFall Magazine.