SCARS OF THE NEW ORDER   STORIES BY SCOTT NEUFFER

A collection of short stories (Publish date: May 21st, 2014)   
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A REVIEW BY MARILEE SWIRCZEK

Freelance writer and former reporter Scott Neuffer’s new short story collection, Scars of the New Order, reads like a modern version of Dante’s Inferno: each character abandons hope, some sooner than others.

In the book’s final story and the collection’s namesake, an old man confesses: “I don’t have any forgiveness left…But God must be merciful. How else could he stand the sight of his own creation?”

Neuffer explores this question as he captures defining events in the lives of ordinary people living in a new century already characterized by what the old man calls “wickedness,” both private and public.

Darkly lyrical in the early stories, Neuffer’s language and imagery forces us to move slowly through nightmarish episodes, such as the decline and death of a morbidly obese twenty-eight-year-old man who cannot be saved, even by love, in “Death of a Fat Man.” Though we may want to turn away from the grotesque, Neuffer’s unsparing, precisely observed and recorded intimacies snare us; we pity the characters, yet fear we may be like them.

There are stories of courage and cowardice here—but Neuffer’s characters live in the gray space between those places, so our challenge is to decipher their psychic and spiritual codes. In “Youth Begone,” when Manny Cash chooses to “let go” of his own life, is he coward or hero? “He can see no more land behind him. No land in front of him.” With this ascetic line, Neuffer paints the austere, frightening interior landscape of the story collection.

Neuffer’s prose becomes purer, less opaque, in the last stories—as if mercy and even hope might break through the profound fog of bleakness. So in the final story, “Scars of the New Order,” when the seemingly disparate threads of tragedy and trauma coelesce and transform into what feels like grace, it is both unexpected and right.

In the end, what at first appears to be an inevitable surrender to the dark side becomes an intimation of hope in the character of Police Sgt. Jonathan Hall, an Army National Guard veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Responding to a plea for help from an elderly, despondent resident of the small Nevada town that is his beat, Hall hears—and understands—the old man’s call to action: “There must be more mercy in the world than people think, or else the world couldn’t go on, couldn’t balance out the evil.”

In an after note, Neuffer promises that “his next book will be happier.” After descending, with Neuffer’s guidance, into the despair that seems to curse his characters’ humanity, it will be interesting to see how Neuffer measures happiness.

ABOUT MARILEE SWIRCZEK
Professor Swirczek taught literature and writing at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu and California State University, Sacramento, before joining the faculty at Western Nevada College in 1989, where she served for six years as English/Foreign Languages Chair and Lead Faculty for Communication & Fine Arts. She founded Lone Mountain Writers (1991) and was recognized as Humanities Scholar, Nevada Humanities Committee (2003); WNC Instructor of the Year (1990-91), UCCSN Outstanding Faculty (1995-98); and Distinguished Nevadan (2001). Active in community affairs, she served on the Carson City Board of Supervisors (1987-89) and writes an opinion column for the Nevada Appeal. Professor Swirczek is project director for Always Lost: A Meditation on War, an arts/humanities exhibition that originated in her creative writing class in 2009, received national acclaim, and was invited to Washington, D.C. by members of the U.S. Senate. Always Lost has been on national tour since 2010 and is currently on exhibition at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee. She was awarded a Medal of Honor in 2012 by the Daughters of the American Revolution for her contribution to the nation through her work on Always Lost. A Pennsylvania native, Swirczek has lived in Nevada since 1978.

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