Whether it is a struggle between an ex-girlfriend or a wife or a trial of coping with the death of a friend, the short stories in “Hush Hush,” written by Steven Barthelme, focus and narrate human anguish.
As the brother of Donald Barthelme, one of the original founders of the UH Creative Writing Program, Steven’s literary works are innovative and an example for those who crave literary creativity.
One of the many attributes to be appreciated in “Hush Hush” is the consistency in ambiance and style. Each character has a feeling of desolation that could resonate with the paintings of Edward Hopper or any other Ashcan artist.
The overall transition from one narration to the next is quite smooth. Stories flow with subtle connections, such as recurring use of names, reference and atmosphere.
There is no sign of difficulty to maintain focus when flipping through each story, which gives the reader plenty of room to soak in each word and aesthetic.
While each character is coupled with their story and setting, readers may feel a disconnection along the way. The lighting and tone is stagnant, in a sense that the atmosphere is quiet and solitary. Each narrator has no trouble creating imagery for the reader to hold on to.
This could be because of Barthelme’s style, where he places a boundary between the reader and the characters in order to lessen disruption in the experience.
While a narrator appears to express distress thoroughly, there is always a distance to maintain. The effect will simultaneously allow readers to reflect on their sentiments and actions as they fixate in their connection with the world of “Hush Hush.”
Another method to keep the reader close is the characters themselves.
Primary characters are shaped by their reactions and brief physical description, which will make readers anxious to identify the angst, while static characters are generally given a two-word description of an iconic figure.
Pop references give a short and sweet portrayal of immediate imagery, which the reader will give little attention to in minor parts. With the settings being simple in its descriptions, it is enough information for the audience to paint a brief but flickering picture as the events of the story progress.
“Hush Hush” is a great read of humble, hilarious and heart-clenching short stories.
Overall, Barthelme reminds us — like the people in the stories — we all want to be heard, even if the listener can’t fully connect.