Across the Border by Anthony Pond is a collection of short stories following the moments in the life of Ryan, a young man coming-of-age on the west coast of the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.
Being a short story writer myself, I find it interesting that Anthony chose to create a collection of stories chronicling the life of a person. I’m so accustom to books who follow the course of a person’s life, you might say it seems both strange and fascinating for a writer to choose that format for a short story collection. Yet, when I think about it, there’s a freedom to his kind of way of doing it. First, you don’t have to worry about chapters. You don’t have to keep track of characters. All you have to do is write one story after the other, each a unique adventure unto itself. Second, I imagine the writing sessions to be fresh. Anyone who writes novellas or novels by the seat of their pants knows what I’m talking about when I say there comes a point in longer works of fiction where you ask yourself, “Where am I going with this?” It’s easy to lose focus when you’re writing from chapter-to-chapter, but in a short story any loss of focus is so minute it doesn’t stand out as pronounced as say going five chapters without even a remote hint of the story being what you originally set out to write.
Of the collection, my favorite story is the “Goat Pen Vegetable Garden” which to me has the feel of narrative designed to paint a picture describing the life of the character by means of robust body text and minimal dialogue. I found myself really getting into this story because it showed an intimate view of Ryan’s life and how the world around him changed after high school despite not thinking it ever would while in high school. I went through that phase too, and my guess is everyone does to a degree.
The stories in the book range from a few pages to several with one of the longer in the collection being the story of a scuba diving adventure in Baja California. As I read the story, I couldn’t help but think about Jack Kerouac and The Beat Generation authors who sojourned south of the border to escape the hectic life of the United States in the immediate years after the Second World War. Mexico became to The Beats what Spain became to artists of the 1920s, a fantastical land where one might wash away they’re miseries with drink and sweaty passions while at the same time invigorating their creativity.
One of Pond’s stories, “Diamond Ring,” left me with mixed feelings. It takes place in a family owned jewelry store. Containing lots of details and descriptions about how a jeweler works, I found myself captivated by the attention placed in the writing. It’s one of those stories you finish and look up what the author wrote about because you want to learn more about the processes described. But the story ended too soon. I wanted to read more. Then, I got to thinking. Maybe that’s the feeling Pond wanted to convey. He wanted the reader to feel cheated and needing more from the story. I say this with all respect because I myself have a tendency to write this way. I enjoy opened ended stories where readers want more but don’t get it. I imagine my characters living on after the story fades out because that’s how life works. People remain as we leave. Why shouldn’t characters too? So this story, in a good way, reminded me of what my readers might experience with my own stories, a feeling of wanting more while realizing they got what they need.