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Kenneth Silver
Wake Up the Night
This is a collection of stories, of words and ideas that flow like a dream, but is there anything less predictable or quite so fickle as a dream? Ken Silver creates narratives that are decidedly daring, and he is never afraid to reach, but never beyond the point at which (with lawyerly precision) he is unable to support his conclusions, scientifically or otherwise. Make no mistake though, it is hardly a tame piece of writing, but a rich harvest of beautifully imagined and thoroughly engrossing tales conceived by an original thinker who refuses to be shackled to curatorial conventions. Accordingly, each and every story, and the novel that follows, has a mind of their own. The novel itself could only have been written by someone who had actually been there. It took more than research. It took a fashion designer, lawyer, and rainforest radical, but, most of all, it took a poet. Sip it slowly. It is a bold and complex selection and wants to be savored. We offer some personal insights from an author who charts his own course: “To write it is to live it. I only became the explorer I am when I conquered my fear of the dark. There are times my writing frightens me, but I never turn back. I follow the road wherever it takes me, to Dystopia’s doorstep – Utopia’s opposite – and beyond. My work is stripped of the innocence where fewer of us continue to reside, and is very much in the moment, in the darkest corners of our minds. And yet, wherever time takes us, laughter is sure to follow. It is part of the human paradox. Hence, much of the writing you see before you is garnished with humor. No one ever said that you can’t laugh in the dark.”
Silver’s debut collection pairs incisive, searching character-driven fiction with premises that touch on science-fiction and horror, to often unsettling effect. The narrator of the lengthy title story, set in a near-future of expanded lifespans and declining birth rates, recounts rite-of-passage milestones growing up with senior citizen parents in an “Age Restricted Community”—he’s “the first and only child in a world inhabited by seniors.” As he comes of age, connecting with young people outside the ARC, Silver teases out the economic and political implications of this future, the protagonist discovering that an anti-immigrant movement called Put America First has evolved into “Put Kids First,” and that “retirement” now has a terrifying new meaning.

That grimly satiric spirit also powers the formally inventive “The Trigger,” a story that exploits the many meanings of its title. In 2040, the “industry leader” in the reformed private prison biz is experimenting with “Behavior Modification Theory” for the treatment of criminals; in this case, that involves having them face the circumstances that “triggered” their crime. Silver proves adept at the speculative elements, especially the upbeat corporate-speak of the employees of Renaissance Cross-Correction Alternatives, who discuss the behavior of the story’s rapists and abusive husbands with the detached interest of writers’ workshop participants. But his heart is in those lowdown characters, whose cruelty and suffering prove harrowing—Silver’s people struggle to retain their humanity in a society set up to stub it out.

Silver rounds out the collection with a tale of nature’s revenge, several narratives in script form—one a bleak joke; another a colloquy among dudes watching football on the possibility of science discovering a cosmic force that might be “god”—and a novella, “Leak in the Roof,” that blends fictional memoir, interviews, poetry, and an editor’s note to reveal an engaging life in the fashion industry, and also make explicit a theme tying together much of the book: the failure of truthtellers to convince humanity to turn things around before they get worse.

Takeaway: Dark, incisive fiction that emphasizes character and humanity as it edges toward the speculative.

Great for fans of: Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters, Lauren Beukes.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: B