Monday, February 14, 2011

Book Review: The Winter Triptych by Nicole Kornher-Stace

The beauty of independent presses--in this case Papaveria Press--is that they're willing to produce small books, a stark contrast to mainstream publishers where the cash cows are often novels, novels, and more novels. Not that I don't mind a meaty book when it's done right (I'm a fan of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones for example), but sometimes, less is indeed more. It's not just about the lack of "padding" but the way the text suggests so much in such a short length. The reader interacts with the text and they fill in the blanks instead of the author spelling everything out for them. Of course sometimes, a short story is simply short but that's not the case with Nicole Kornher-Stace's The Winter Triptych. It's subtle and elegant, a book that shows restraint yet dazzles at the same time.

I'm impressed with Kornher-Stace's juxtaposition as this works on multiple levels. The most obvious is her storytelling technique as various points of view provide a mystery at first but eventually culminates into a whole that's ambitious and epic. But the author is not simply a one-trick pony as she pays close attention to her language. It's an interesting switch between narrative voice and dialogue: the former is modern and accessible while the latter is archaic and regal. The contrast between the two heightens the impact and while it can be jolting at first, serves as a reminder of the duality the story.

At the end of the day though, The Winter Triptych is simply a very compelling read. Because of the author's brevity, the narrative moves at a quick pace. Kornher-Stace also knows how to use breaks, whether sentence breaks, paragraph breaks, or chapter breaks, to great effect, accomplishing so much more than what a paragraph of exposition can achieve. And then there are her characters. It's surprising how large a cast the author conjures in such a short time and it's even more surprising how soon the reader becomes intimate with them.

One of the tag-lines of Papaveria Press is "Books are small gods" and that's an apt description of The Winter Triptych. It has precision and substance and interactivity, elements that are not appreciated enough.

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