Title: Cast No Shadow
Author: Brandon Dragan
Type: Short Story
“Beau watched Lynn’s tail lights disappear around the corner as he lit another cigarette. He ran through a mental checklist of items they’d stored at the cabin in the hills, and items they’d need if they were going to lay low and out of sight for the time being. He chuckled to himself as he though about having given up the game just that evening. It seemed the game was still playing him.”
This short story is set in 1980s Texas and centres on a man, who by day does odd-jobs for his neighbours, but by night hunts drug gangs. With the money he gets from them, he donates to charity or saves for his family. His girlfriend is constantly worried that he’ll get himself hurt, but he is trying to rid the world of bad people. Their nine-year-old son knows his daddy goes out at night, but is too young to understand the gravity of what he does. But when he accidentally involves himself with a drug cartel, Beau is paranoid that someone is out to get him and his family.
One of my favourite books is a collection of short stories by Ramond Carver called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. So with a soft-spot for them already, I was excited to read this short story. The first interesting thing I would like to say about this book is that none of the dialogue had speech marks around it. The author told me this in advance and said that he chose to do it for two reasons: 1 to keep the pace of the novel, and 2, as a homage to one of his favourite authors, Cormac McCarthy. I personally thought it would be interesting to read as I have never read anything like that before, and wasn’t too concerned about whether it would affect how I read the story. Having now finished, I have to say that I think not having the speech marks really did keep the pace of the novel nicely. I finished the whole thing in about 45 minutes and I do think that the lack of speech marks really helped make the whole thing flow as one piece. Dragan made it clear enough so you knew who was talking, so I don’t think it impeded my ability to enjoy this novel in any way.
Throughout the book’s short pages, I was intrigued where the story would be heading. Obviously there was already an element of tension because the main character was dealing with drug gangs, but I wasn’t too sure what kind o message Dragan was trying to convey with the book. (I, personally, always like short stories which convey some kind of message, so I’m glad this one did too – or at least the one I interpreted anyway!)
The ending was so tense; throughout the short story, Dragan gradually built up suspense, and although I didn’t notice at first, it was only when I realised how much I was holding my breath throughout the last few pages, that I realised how well he had done it. Overall it left me with a an odd feeling – on the one hand, I had fallen in love with the family at the heart of the story – but on the other, I knew how dark and disturbing the story had become by the end. Very reminiscent of Black Mirror or Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie.
Dragan is an incredible writer with a definite gift for storytelling. I think it takes a certain talent to be able to tell such a great story in so few pages and I am very eager to read anything else he writes. Well done Brandon.
Thank you to the author, Brandon Dragan, for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.