The Scotch Runner, Elisavietta Ritchie’s new collection of short stories from Poet’s Choice highlights the DC poetess eye for sensuous detail. The stories bounce from to Poland to Boston to the Mid Atlantic. The collection is interspersed with pictures of sculpture by Serena Bates (Poet’s Choice also paired Martin Galvin’s poems with Ryan Bongers's watercolors, in Galvin’s New & Selected), which enriches the work of both artists. Often the sculpture resonates with the stories, and often Ritchie's poesy recalls the sculpture's frozen movement. Poet's Choice offers up a handsome slim collection sure to please Ritchie’s fans, as well as new readers.
Many of these stories are short and cut under three pages.Poetry pulses through the prose. In “Beyond Laramie” Ritchie creates a stark wildscape fraught with danger. “I carry my back-story as if in my knapsack, buckled shut. For even out here, though one can elude them for a while, the shadowers, the watchers remain alert as pit bulls.” And in “The Traveler Meets Her Double in the Balkans” Ritchie lays down a series of short lines to build tension, “The road dissolves in marigolds. The bus stops by a church. Passengers descend. You grab your backpack, I mine. We touch the dusk of chapel walls, troop inside. Two cones in black, like prunes, recite their toothless prayers.” Ritchie’s lyric sensibility tightens the sense of danger that lays in wait for the women of these stories. Death and oppression are ever present, and Ritchie’s storytellers warn, be aware, be aware, there are normal people everywhere who commit terrible crimes.
One of the more striking tales is “Amanda” which tells in Ritchie’s luminous prose, an aging woman’s struggles with pain, caring for animals, the failing body, opioids, booze, and sanity. The title character’s dry tone undercuts the litany of pain and struggle Ritchie so elegantly captures. There’s a underbelly to America’s longevity, the pain and suffering of aging far beyond what our ancestors had known. Ritchie’s crone questions the quality of late stage life, especially a medicated one even as the character wades into the water, booze addled, and serene, finally, at the end.
It’s fitting for The Scotch Runner to be paired with pictures of sculpture, Ritchie’s writing has long consisted of sensuous imagery and is infused with music, so these stories feel three dimensional as Bates' work. Runner’s prose is tight and sprung, and is by and large cosmopolitan, flush with sumptuous food, cafes, and the pulse of desire; the dangers of the past lurk, and death is right around the corner.
Stephen Scott Whitaker is the managing editor for The Broadkill Review. His novel, Mulch, a novel of weird fiction, is forthcoming from Montag Press. His poems have appeared in dozens of journals and anthologies including Oxford Poetry, Grub Street, and New Plains Review.