REVIEW of ‘If Not for You & Other Stories by Niles Reddick

By Don Beukes

Niles Reddick immediately demands our undivided attention right from the outset of this immersive collection of stories, whether we choose to or not, through clear descriptive writing techniques and carefully selected use of language choices,which grab our senses from the start of this creative journey.

My teen daughter screamed/she’d been bitten by a yellow fly/an annoying species that defied bug spray.”

In fact, this is the central thread throughout this collection, which holds it all together as Reddick expertly sweeps us along as he introduces a myriad of colourful but also realistic and at times vulnerable characters presented to us but also some welcome but very weird situations, leaving us satisfied but hungry for more as we are transported through the scenes in these stories. Reddick certainly displays a knack for carefully curated language choices as in, “…stared at the still, glass-like sea”, which is quite poetic.

In ‘Yellow Fly’, Reddick already establishes a conversational ‘contract’ with us, the readers and communicates in a style that is both accessible and almost vaguely familiar, as in the situations the author puts his characters in feels somehow familiar, maybe to remind us that anyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, can experience frustration and annoyance, as in

I didn’t pay $3000 to come down here to be harassed/ and nobody better tow my car or I’m gonna whip somebody’s ass” and “She and her dutiful servant disappeared in the elevator.”

Here, Reddick selects clever use of consistent language choices and even cinematic references of a certain era as in, “I imagined her a combination of a socratic gadfly and a Jeff Goldblum fly character flitting about and/stinging people with her words”

Again, Reddick uses a comical tone of voice and vivid language as mentioned before, as in “I was fascinated by the sand crabs/and their burrows/washed up pieces of driftwood with miniature shells attached”.

Reddick certainly delivers a credible and believableoverall narrative in this collection, which gives credibility to his writing style and overall creative choices, which he weaves with confidence to enable us to continue reading, which says a lot about his confidence as a writer.

Not surprisingly, Reddick has quite a knack for ‘literary comedy’, where he introduces another annoying character in ‘Cicada Calls’,

“WHAT A STRANGE song those birds sing,” the mother

told the hotel clerk at the front desk. “We’re from Wisconsin

and don’t have those back home.”

“Those aren’t birds, mam. Those are insects. Cicadas. It’s

their mating calls,” the clerk said.

“Oh my,” she said. “Well, it’s a little eerie and loud. Do

do they bite? I’m bringing my son here for college. I’m worried

enough already.”

This reflects a somewhat familiar scenario where a parent has to let go, especially taking responsibility as a single parent, which is surely universal but we cannot ignore the clever characterisation by this author. A ‘mother’ unable to let go of her son. Here Reddick makes emotive choices, which allows us to somehow connect with the character emotionally and socially, as in “deep breaths/wiping tears/kissed him on the cheek” This clearly reflects Reddick’s technique as a writer and storyteller.

Reddick consistently creates authentic visual lexical gems in this collection.

We see evidence of this in ‘Digging Up Bottles’, as in “Antique bottles are valuable/Looks like a hand and some fingers”, as well as in “I knew the poor kid was buried this side of the cemetery/but I didn’t think they’d come this far out”. This could easily be a cinematic plot for the right audienceReddick maintains this cinematic element throughout this collection, hence its success.

Reddick even ensures that he focuses on societal and economic themes, as our global society evolves. We see glimpses of this in ‘Weekly Call’, where Reddick comments on ‘ the economics of family’ as well as finances and the economic meltdown in society.

I’m particularly becoming quite intrigued by Reddick’s ability to create plausible and realistic scene settings to keep us on tender hooks throughout this creative journey, allowing us to visualise places and locations, even transporting us to his pictorial landscapes. We see this in action in ‘Jubilee’, as in “The hunting club met in a back room” and “Quaker State”, perhaps reflecting on a subgroup in society whose activities are quite particular and perhaps insular. Furthermore, this author sure knows how to create intrigue and even make us grimace, due to his intelligent execution of words and innuendos, as in “Peter shared he and his siblings had all been born with fused toes/and two of them had an appendage above their buttocks that looked like tails” and “I felt like that was more info that I needed.”

It is even more evident at this juncture that Reddick’s wit and humour makes this a very entertaining and gripping read from beginning to end and yet, he continues to hold our attention.

This is seen in ‘It’s Not a Wonderful Life, “After another screaming match with his son and daughter/both teenagers/Abraham walked to the bedroom/sat in the leather chair/He didn’t  pick up a book/instead he took several anxiety pills which he hoped would slow down his racing heartbeat”

This author definitely does not hold back.He consistently taps into natural human feelings, frustrations and the human experience, as we are willingly dragged through these emotions and motions along with the characters and personalities, whether we want to or not; and therein lies the success of this riveting collection whilst teasing our senses.

No theme, social commentary, nor political or judiciary aspect of the global society we are all part of, are off limits in this pensive collection. In ‘Jury Duty’, Reddick takes the opportunity to touch on his country’s jury system and leads us into a ‘literary court’, giving us an insight into the mindset, procedures and outcomes in a ‘court of law’. Just the mere mention of the title would even entice any average citizen to perhaps have a peek. We experience this in,

A construction worker one row down/must’ve come straight from a building site/because of orange flecks of insulation he had all over his green t-shirt”

Here, we are reminded again of Reddick’s clever eye for creative detail, as the ‘narrator’ also acts like a reporter from inside the ‘courtroom’, where we have an exclusive birds eye view of the scene. Additionally, we are also once again reminded of the author’s highly effective comical element and at times hillarious storytelling.

Reddick certainly entertains us by using his unique technique to put us right in the centre of the ‘scenes’ he creates in his creative process, which is expertly excecuted. Somehow, Reddick even manages to consistenly control our attention by random ‘observations’ of his characters but also elements of the scenes he creates, as in

 “The sunlight shone through the window/and highlighted specs of dust moving in the air/I blew and watch the air/I blew and watched the particles float around/and wondered how many of them contained the flu virus”,  and “Given the coughing and spewing of germs in the room…”, maybe a reference to ‘Covid’?

The sheer imagination of this author to create a credible and believable narrative has  to be applauded. This is undoubtedly a writer with unflinchingly creative bravery. This is quite evidident in, ‘Spaghetti House’, “where the author’s opening scene holds our gaze, purely for effect, “When Marie gained consciousness in the hospital bed/Her friend Anna”, clearly teasing us to focus on the characters and the situation but to also making us want to read more about it.

I am constantly reminded of Reddick’s ability to draw us in to his conversational communication skills as a writer. We observe this in Protest (for Melanie Safka who performed at Woodstock), I read the obituary of my friend’s mother/on the funeral website/it made me sad that I couldn’t thank her”.

Furthermore, we are treated to unique literary gems; not just in the aforementioned story but throughout this literary experience. We witness this in “ mother, who was a great cook, periodacally prepared one meal I despised/just the smell of it frying in a pan/could make me throw up in my mouth.”

We are also treated to the author’s humor, “I’d faked an allergic reaction to her fried liver/and even begged for our outside dog to come inside/so I could feed him underneath the table”. Such is the impact of Reddick’s writing craft, which is testimony of his boldness as a word weaver.

No theme is spared in this multifaceted collection of emotive and at times hillarious storytelling.

In ‘Shady Valley’, Reddick makes a literary comment on the state of mental health in society. We observe this in,

“The place was mostly clean/unless one looked in corners or under furniture/Truth be told, a plug-in wasn’t going to completely cover the urine, farts ot vomit”

Reddick will not let it go, he even comments on the state of pharmaceutical practices in America, as in,

“People rested at the home because tax dollars paid the jacked-up pill prices/to big pharmacy/several jacked-up pill prices/to big pharmacy/several 1000% points higher than the Chinese production cost to manufacture them/the pills kept the reality and

 “The pills kept retired folks in an alternative reality” and lastly, “When Reg was younger, he loved ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest/he never dreamed he’d live it”

It is quite evident that Reddick is more than able to throw in the unexpected, as in The Air That I Breathe’ when ‘Buddy’ said, “Biden might might win if he picks Warren as a running mate” and “This between coughs/in the last two days of his life on that respirator”. This author displays a realistic view of our global village, dealing with universal, as well as personal viewpoints filtering through.

This might be a general comment on the state of the nation but what is quite clear is that it affects everyone, as we are increasingly part of a global society, dealing with health, a healthy psyche and the general state of humanity. If this collection is a snapshot of a society having to deal with life’s echoes and onslaughts, then all of us surely can share these challenges, no matter which culture or belief system, as we intrinsically all belong in this global village.

Reddick definately does not hold back when he introduces his themes or his carefully curated characters. This is his strength as a writer of repute. His bravery in the choice of themes is the driving force of this collection, as it widens the scope of his selection of his characters.

A theme that stands out in this collection is life versus death. We experience this existential theme in ‘Wig’, as in “When they found the lump in one breast”. As this is such a human experience and always present in society as a red flag health scare, Reddick sure handles it with the utmost respect and sensitivity.

This author has the ability to make us laugh, to challenge us, to look inward and reimagine our moral compass. Reddick somehow allows us to immerse ourselves in the rhythm of life itself.

Reddick does not allow us to leave this narrative of our human experience. He even boldly comments on societal neglect, as in ‘Her Room’,  “An assisted living facility/a few rockers on the front porch”.

Yet again, Reddick masterfully paints a scene with glorious lexical panache and atmosphere needed for full effect of the sensitive issues raised. He continues,

“…Azaleas lined the front sides of the house and covererd what blocks and bricks/didn’t cover – pipes, bottles, cigarette buts, twinkle wrappers”

This style of writing is consistent and keeps us alert. We once again are reminded of ‘societal neglect, “the smell of urine was strong”. Here, the author even tickles and teases our senses. Such is the allure of this author and his consistency in holding our attention and he holds us to account as well.

Reddick has definately invested in the themes and characters and his sober realism of this microcosm of humanity. His consistency in the creation of his characters has been a literary tour de force triumph.

In conclusion, Reddick has certainly taken us on a personal and reflective journey, along with colourful characters but also serious themes, questions and reflections. This is quite evident in the final title story, ‘IF NOT FOR YOU’, where Reddick certainly and existentially challenges us to look deep within our own moral compass.

In this reimagined and reflective, yet deeply moralistic story, Reddick grips us with a final comment on humanity itself, along with references to historical evil deeds carried out by the worst that mankind can become, devoid of any mutual love for the human race and ultimately willingly bowing to evil.

The opening sentence already alerts us to an existential topic, as Reddick alerts us to an existential dillema,

“JEREMIAH KNEW NO ONE was born evil”

This line alone grips us with reeling echoes of our own system of beliefs, no matter who we are, what colour, who we happen to love; or what we believe in. Reddick invites us to revisit ourselves, which is the most difficult notion any human being would dread, as we are still learning to come to terms with who and what we are in a galaxy we are still learning about and frantically always seeking what lies beyond our human understanding…

We even perhaps start questioning if it is all just brainwashed noise from a plethora of sources, as we inevitably question everything we’ve ever been taught; and take responsibility for our own belief systems. We get a sense of Reddick’s creative motive in this startling reimagining of a story we thought we knew and understood but we should also be receptive to different viewpoints and our responsibility to speak our own truth, whether others disagree or not.

Here, we are gifted viewpoints that challenge but also refresh our window of the world. This gives us a sense of the author’s ultimate goal, to challenge, reimagine, heal, oppose and even be willing to release ourselves from the matrix of humanity, where we individually but also as a collective can support each other.

 Additionally, what Reddick focuses on ultimately becomes our focus, such is the power of words and references.

We witness this in the choice of language and historical references used by the author, as in

“Amin/Hitler/No one expected what had come/I’m not ready to die/I want to go home/call to God Joshua/He is there for you/You cannot give him up in your hour of need/Do not give up your beliefs/for God will protect you/

From a reader’s perspective, we naturally might even ask ourselves who ‘Jeremiah’ represents. This in itselve is a powerful reminder to dig deep within ourselves to reaffirm our own spirituality, even if we start thinking about it for the first time.

The historical and Biblical references in this final instalment surely should be considered, as we are bound to always question, research and respect the viewpoints of others, even if it means to think beyond our own limits.

The historical and Biblical references remind us that we are all part of a human family with diverse mentalities, viewpoints and political aspirations; or not!  Such is the beauty of life, where we can share views, however different from ours, without piercing another’s spirit.

In conclusion, this is a collection which comments on the evil that humanity is capable of but also about the fragility and weakness but also the nature of mankind maybe not so kind.

Ultimately, Reddick seeks affirmation that whilst good can triumph over evil, we can just hope to spread love, mutual understanding and love and respect for one another.

This is why I highly recommend this thoughtful and topical collection.

  • Don Beukes (Author of ‘The Girl in the Stone – The Monté Arabi Collection’) – Imspired Press UK

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