In his collection of short stories Losing Camille, Paul Kilgore’s engaging narrative tone and the sensitive handling of each of his characters–across a diversity of ages, genders and personalities–are subtly but skilfully combined to make this book a very thought-provoking and moving accomplishment.
These pieces at a first reading appear as far from one another in terms of plot and characterisation as it is possible to be–the inevitable sadness of a teenage girl at the natural progression of family life holds little resemblance to the suicidal battle of a deeply-troubled woman; an elderly man’s quiet battle with insomnia a world away from the bitterly dramatic disentangling from a cult. Each plot-line and narrative voice contrasts sharply with the one before. Yet there is something in Kilgore’s careful weaving of these together, piece by piece, that makes this ensemble such a remarkable achievement. The mirroring of glimpses of similarity between these entirely different people in entirely different worlds serve not to detract from the impact of each other, but to heighten it. As individual short stories, these pieces will undoubtedly linger for a long time to come; as a whole, however, this work is overwhelming in its affecting poignancy.
The closing lines of “Welcome to My World” epitomise Kilgore’s lasting message from this book: “Before had lost its meaning”. Regardless of cause, the reality these characters are dealing with is one that has changed their world so significantly and irreversibly that things can never quite be the same again. In short, they have reached and gone beyond a mutual point of no return, and it is those first tentative steps into a new era that Kilgore captures with such a heart-rending truth time and time again throughout this collection.
To tell too much of Losing Camille would be to do it an injustice–this is indeed a book that speaks for itself–but I will say this: From the very first lines of the opening poem “Elders” Kilgore evokes in his reader that rare and treasured sense of hushed appreciation felt only now and again, on the tentative suspicion that one is in the hands of a truly great writer. This is one suspicion which is proven, over and over, and with unfaltering certainty throughout, to be wholly deserved.