Critical Response

Jim-Shepard“Edward Hamlin’s fictional worlds are as compelling as they are varied, and his characters intuit how much we’re all—finally—exiles, from the American couple who find their visit to Erg Chebbi flyblown and faintly absurd in its exoticism but shot through with menace, to the pregnant ecotourism manager transplanted from Belfast to the Brazilian rainforest, to the newly widowed second wife surprised at how much her heart seems to have closed to her children and the world. All of them are suffused with an observational intelligence and a pained compassion that are heartening. This is a beautifully written and politically astute collection.”  —Jim Shepard, winner of the Story Prize and two-time finalist for the National Book Award


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“Edward Hamlin has been listening hard to the opaque rustling of the world. And he is just as adept at describing the crack a skull makes on tile as the ‘quieter, thrushier’ gurgling of a creek after a drought. The stories in Night in Erg Chebbi are sweeping and intimate and awesomely confident of their own effects. …This is a collection with both depth and breadth, a book dedicated to revealing ‘the universal concealed in the weft of the particular.’

Hamlin spins the globe, jumping nimbly from a treetop lodge on a Brazilian riverbank to the lawn of a governor’s mansion on the eve of an execution to Merzouga, Morocco, ‘gateway to the dune sea of Erg Chebbi.’ No matter how wild or unsettling the events of a story, Hamlin holds the camera steady. As one character says, ‘What mattered lately was to observe with precision rather than to judge for good or ill.’ Each story here is a world in miniature, illuminated by the flashbulb bursts of Hamlin’s luminous, controlled prose.”  —Karen Russell, Pulitzer Prize finalist


KatherineHill
“Night in Erg Chebbi is a stunner. In these nine dispatches from farflung territories, skies detonate, boots are weapons, and people lie—and also tell the truth. Edward Hamlin observes it all with mellow wisdom, showing us the world as it has always been, but as we have never quite seen it before. A marvelous book about the natural world and the human landscapes of resilience, grief, and love.”
 — Katherine Hill, author of The Violet Hour and winner of the Nelligan Prize



foreword
“Edward Hamlin masterfully plays the full spectrum of literary elements and devices to create globe-spanning fictional worlds bursting with color and life in this collection, winner of an Iowa Short Fiction Award. In exotic Erg Chebbi, an American couple, stalked by memory and menace, find themselves alone amidst huge, hulking dunes. Entwined in saving love in the impenetrable Moroccan night, they find a semblance of peace as the sky above explodes with stars in “a celestial firestorm as suffocating as it is beautiful.” An acclaimed photojournalist who had survived war-zone shootings, nearly dying in filthy backwater clinics, and who had lived a “rootless and lonely existence” for the sake of her work finds herself going incurably blind. She despairs until she finds peace in a new understanding of the physics of light. The young daughter of an IRA assassin flees to Haiti, then to the Brazilian rainforest where, pregnant and under threat, she is confronted with a decision upon which her survival depends. A backwoods American couple has made peace with the condition of their mentally deficient son who needs to run all the time by keeping him on on a long lead for his own safety, but finds their way of life destroyed by a visit from child services.

“Beautiful, terrifying, and compassionate, Hamlin’s stories take a multisensory approach—the sound of a skull cracking on tile, the feel of wind that comes in “broad, slapping gusts,” or the anguish of knowing one will never again see the Milky Way—to bring both the natural landscape and the terrain of the human heart to life with power and passion.”


pubweekly
“The worlds depicted in Hamlin’s haunting debut collection revolve around lost souls. In “Boy, Unleashed,” Child Services attempts to take adolescent Bobby from his parents, but he escapes into the Ozark woods, spurring a massive police search. Maeve Kelly, the protagonist of “Indígena,” hides in a secluded Brazilian village where she makes a living renting tree house cabanas to tourists. When Maeve becomes romantically involved with a wealthy and enigmatic American, she recalls her past as the daughter of a fugitive IRA hit man and her young adulthood in Haiti while her father served President Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. In the title story, Wilson brings his wife, Anna, to a dune sea in Morocco. Anna has been distant since the death of her brother, and Wilson hopes Anna will find her old self in the emptiness of the desert. Hamlin guides readers through dark emotional pathways, illuminating the search for new life in response to personal tragedies such as the death of a partner or a blinding illness. The narratives succeed because of the authenticity of the descriptions and voices, and Hamlin’s vast and vivid settings work to quickly establish tone and provide access into the emotional state of his characters. This is a memorable read from a writer with considerable talent.”


basso-profundo
“In Night in Erg Chebbi and Other Stories, Edward Hamlin demonstrates in nine dazzling selections an uncanny insight into human grief and guilt and expiation. On his way to a very well-deserved Iowa Short Fiction Award for 2015, Mr. Hamlin has produced a series of vivid, highly varied, and completely convincing pieces – they’re stunningly clear in their emotional depth and uniformly excellent in execution.

They range from a tenebrous midnight in the Moroccan desert, to the parched aridity of an isolated town in the western U.S., to the backwoods of fundamentalist cruelty and familial abuse in the Ozarks, to murderous and frozen New York at its worst. The collection leads off with “Indígena”, a gratifyingly balanced account of a woman whose father was a fugitive Irish revolutionary and assassin. Her familiarity with weapons and understanding of the true meaning of being on the lam may have saved her from drowning in the raging Amazon River. This memorable story sets the tone for what follows: swift pacing, unexpected plot turns, and reverberant finishes that generate questions as often as they answer them.

The cover story follows, a simply beautiful, clear, and wrenching story about a woman who finally begins to come to terms with crushing guilt, desperately firing an assault rifle in the middle of the Moroccan midnight, naked and screaming. “Light Year” and “One Child Policy” take up the terrible outcomes for two very different American women, a professional photojournalist who is losing her eyesight and an frightened Chinese immigrant trying to make her way in a New York populated with bigoted thugs and a blizzard. The author fills these stories with effective background, as he does with every entry here, with a minimum of language and a maximum of effect.

“The Release” is the most emotionally affecting story among a lot of strong entries. In it a woman tries to balance her interests with those of her recently deceased husband’s ex-wife, and the emotionally handicapped daughter from the first marriage. How she succeeds at this is one of the truly surprising results in this collection full of surprises. In “Not Yet”, “Head Shy,” and “Clemency,” we witness men whose variety of misdemeanors come from their wildly different backgrounds and personalities, but in which death is a constant, but the movement toward redemption is not.

Even in these brief stories, Mr. Hamlin reveals character only gradually, as the disastrous, or unfortunate, or careless, or simply misguided, events and impulses become clear and overtake the action and resolution. I have not been so impressed by a collection of short stories in quite a long time. These are all splendid, each with their multiple attractions, and deserve as wide an audience as we can muster. Without a doubt, take these up!”

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