Box Cutters by Samuel Snoek-Brown
Sunnyoutside Press, 2013; 32 pp
Reviewed by Elise Matthews
In Samuel Snoek-Brown's chapbook, Box Cutters, the dull pain of bruises throbs through the pages. I'm struck by the depth of these brief stories, at how much is on each page, in each sentence, between and underneath and behind the visible lines.
I want to focus on the opening story, "How Long My Bruises Will Last," in particular, because it's such a strong opening and sets the tone for the rest of the collection. The narrative moves in and out of conflict quickly without losing any power. The first sentence is a harmless, unassuming opener about having eggs in a diner—just a generic moment in a relationship. But the second sentence punches through with an admission of domestic violence:
And the afternoon we were fake-sparring, laughing and jabbing at each other, and she clipped me on the chin by accident, and I belted her, a solid fist in her sternum, a reflex but it was on purpose, and at first she took to wailing on me, slapping and punching and kicking, but then she just sat and cried for hours, and she wouldn't let me near her for a week, which is how long my bruises lasted.
It gets dark and heavy so fast, from eating with his wife/girlfriend to accidentally-but-intentionally punching her. The narrator isn't afraid of his failings, nor does he shy away from acknowledging responsibility for his actions.
Then, the third sentence balances this intense shift by easing back into a pleasant memory of a picnic, another generic, easy moment. Within another couple of sentences, though, the narrator discusses another intense fight—one that lasted sixteen hours and involved making enough noise for a neighbor to call the cops. All of this takes place in one densely packed paragraph. So much here is crammed between the lines, which are just bursting through the seams.
The rest of the collection has similar pacing and depth, similar honesty from the characters. None of them seem ashamed of who they are—even when it feels like they maybe should be, like Lemuel in "Distance" or the narrator in " Dream With Enough Conviction." These are characters who act a bit shamefully but don't apologize for it. They lay everything out on the table, and Snoek-Brown has captured their confessions on the page.