Byzantium.

Author:Polevoi, Lee
Position:Book review

Ben Stroud (author); BYZANTIUM; Graywolf Press (Fiction: Short Stories) 15.00 ISBN: 9781555976460

Byline: Lee Polevoi

A wide range of settings, deeply introspective characters, and dramatic plots reveal the powerful skills of this young writer.

A young writer's imaginative powers are amply displayed in this debut short story collection. These stories span time and space, in settings as diverse as ancient Byzantium, Havana in the era of slave labor, and contemporary East Texas. Ben Stroud's subject matter is equally diversified. Two linked stories ("The Don's Cinnamon" and "The Moor") chronicle the adventures of Jackson Hieronymus, a black private investigator somewhat incongruously plying his trade in Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm, while "The Traitor of Zion" tells the story of the slow awakening of a naA[macron]ve American cult member in the 19th century. In the collection's title story, a nobleman's crippled and disgraced son is assigned a grisly mission in the court of Heraclitus.

Stroud does an admirable job of bringing these unusual settings to life, though at times the research threatens to overwhelm the stories' inherent drama, as in "Byzantium": "He had crushed the Persian king Chosroes, regained the eastern provinces, restored the True Cross to Jerusalem, and ordered the golden saddle of the general Shahrbaraz beaten into coins for the poor." A little of this goes a long way and at times undercuts the forward thrust of the narrative.

Yet, for all the exotic nature of these stories, some of the most affecting moments...

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