All the Day’s Sad Stories, by Tina May Hall

All the Day’s Sad Stories

A Novella by Tina May Hall
Released May 2009
5 3/8 w × 8 5/16 h × 98 pp
Sixty-pound acid-free off-white text stock
Perfect-bound ten-point glossy cover

Reviewed by j. a. tyler

Let’s be upfront about this: I read Matt Bell’s The Collectors (runner-up in Caketrain’s 2008 chapbook competition that Tina May Hall won) first. And in full-disclosure, I loved Bell’s book. It’s a sparkling short text of tunnels and trash, fallen brothers, the sinking down of familial ships, the end of people. So if Bell’s fantastic effort was the runner-up, I had understandably high expectations for the winning novella, Hall’s All the Day’s Sad Stories.

And isn’t it lovely when everything turns out as it should?

All the Day’s Sad Stories is Jake and Mercy and x’s on doors, x’s and o’s in an ovulation calendar, a dead dog wrapped in a parka, Mercy’s womb the ground they till where nothing springs, hail coming going and the leaves pelted, their lives a shattered album of glass.

Written in flash sections, Hall strikes a perfect balance between emotional digging and a flowing, generous, easy pace prying at the reader while simultaneously letting it all go, moving on within a page or two, creating a rhythm that is pleasantly absorbing and delightfully tangling. Hall moves us in and out of character moments and movements like a symphony, where the tone changes subtly but the overall thought continues—a wonderful layering of words and living:

“Late August. The things they planted have grown and been plucked or eaten or given away. No more Xs bloom on their siding. Jake builds a bonfire of vines and tree branches in the backyard. The charred ring that results is as solid as the moon. Mercy chews hard lozenges of gum and spits them into the garden or swallows them. Seven years, she thinks, but maybe that is bad luck and mirrors or growing a new skin.”

And that is how Hall’s writing works, how it staggers out of these pages: full of light but still dainty and weightless. All the Day’s Sad Stories offers a driving plot without burdensome exposition, without massive explanatory dialogue, and yet heavy with beautiful symmetry and grace, a brand of caring that is often missed in flash collections or novellas built with segmented parts. The progression in these marred efforts is often undermined by an ill-chosen brevity, their rhythm disrupted by constant breaks; but here, Hall maneuvers everything with real ease. There is no straggling, everything moves slickly forward. Her scenic descriptions, demonstrating her powerful command of language, her tremendous honesty, hit the canvas with just enough images, just enough serenity, just enough caustic turmoil:

“This is the year of overabundance. Storms saturate the desert into bloom and the Great Salt Lake rises and butterflies that no one has seen in fifty year unfurl. And the stock market bulges slowly like a flooded river and the beef that Japan doesn’t want rots on refrigerated shelves…In California, botanists name new flowers after stepchildren and second cousins, grade-school teachers who smelled of cardamom and stale polyester.”

So while Matt Bell’s The Collectors is sold out, published in a single run of 100 copies, you can still lay hands on one of the 200 copies Caketrain made of Tina May Hall’s All the Day’s Sad Stories. A fast, smoldering read, this is a novella well-worth the time, money, and emotional purging it may instigate, well-worth the read to see writing that works, writing that challenges, writing that saturates while somehow remaining still gentle. Go. Go get.


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