Reviews of The Rainbow Man and Other Stories
by David Gardiner   (Complete texts, unedited)
The Rainbow Man is a clever, and rather moving, device used to unify this diverse collection of stories. His is the first, simple story of a tramp wandering streets while talking to himself and children joining in his conversations and then making up their own. He then starts most of the following stories in the book with an apt quip which he might have made to a character in that story.
The stories themselves are a joy. They are very much that very thing, short stories, which now tend to be disappearing in a welter of "Art". Now I have nothing against art and I would not wish it thought that I favoured story-telling over experimental writing. I don’t, but neither do I favour experimental writing over story-telling. As with poetry, where there is room for rhyme and whatever its opposite might be, there is room in short stories for the experimental and for stories themselves. This book contains the latter.
This book contains twenty-three very good examples of the latter. Gardiner has the talent to depict character successfully in few words and work that character logically in his given setting. This setting often has something religious about it. Ireland and Catholicism are featured in a number of the stories. It is always handled well and with a light but sure touch. The Lies of Sleeping Dogs begins with a priest in Donegal performing a "muffled blessing" at a funeral. Immaculata deals with visions of Angels and virgin birth (this was the only story that didn’t work for me as it had a twist ending that I saw a mile off [I hate twist endings]). Personal Services features a man having his feet anointed by a prostitute he insists on calling "Mary Magdalene". Celia’s Shrine refers back to a certain birth in Bethlehem. The Hand of God says it all in the title.
It is a much wider collection than religion and Ireland might suggest however. Gardiner deals with, amongst other things: the Trenches, Boxing, Madness, the Holocaust, Marital Abuse, Prostitution, Drugs and First Sex. He deals with them all in a well-crafted and considered way. There are ghost stories, fantasy, urban stories, humour and retribution. There are not always happy endings but there are nearly always appropriate endings. He creates scenes and characters which work and which make you think. And the Boho Press (lovely name) do an excellent job of publishing Mr Gardiner’s collection; nary a typo in sight, now there’s a thing!
Review by Chris Williams
The cover of The Rainbow Man and Other Stories is innocent enough. The bright rainbow hangs in a storm hued sky over an idyllic village, with lush fields in the background, cliched vernacular; but do not for one moment be deceived. David's central voice is that of the Rainbowman himself, his words weave through the fabric of each perfectly crafted and provocative story like that of a harbinger from another dimension or a superior being which, by its own divinity, knows how things really are. There is warning in his voice, wisdom and an almost gleeful, riddling prophecy as if from the mouths of babes themselves.
Collateral Damage is a prime example; an old soldier living alone is condemned to being mollycoddled in locus parentis, his neighbour 'spies' on him for his daughter. The old soldier is indignant, he does not need baby-sitting! Did he not fight for his country? Did he not live through Hell for his country? His memories of the old days are more resolutely vivid in his mind than the dull monotony of daily, dressing gown shuffling. So real are his old memories in fact, they can leave the past and blend with the dreary present with the most startling, disquiet ease. Knight Errant is another of the 23 stories that lead you quite astray, if you ever had an imaginary friend as a child you will find yourself wondering how the world viewed your nocturnal whisperings. The Lies of Sleeping Dogs will provide more questions than it answers and is a powerful argument for living in the present, providing its a present you have a right to. David refers to the tinkers in the story and I feel it only fair to say that there must be something of the tinker in David; travellers, tinkers or Irish gypsies notoriously much maligned for their double dealing and slight of hand deception. You pick up this book with its charming exterior thinking you are going read a collection of equally charming short stories, seasoned perhaps with a little grit to raise it above the tame, but what you actually get are jawdropping vignettes of the sort of lives only a writer of David's calibre could relate with such vivid and at times disturbing realism and all this whilst at the same time managing to avoiding the usual, the jaded and the hackneyed to ensnare your attention. Nothing is as it seems and the more mundane the surface, the more layers there appear to be; we are talking about a true literary onion here, multi-layered and quite able to bring tears to your eyes.
In their way, short stories are the hardest of all genres to write, for it is in the very economy of words that volumes are spoken. David is masterful with his word budget; he can induce more impact, chill the blood and widen more eyes in half a dozen pages than some authors could every dream of doing with 30,000 words. It is a gift and one rarely offered to the reading public in this Godforsaken age of heinous, ghost written, celebrity dross which is laughably called literature and the steady, gentle voice of a true storyteller is often sadly too hard to hear with any clarity over the cackling of a cash-fuelled mediocrity. But when you hear it, you will hear a voice which will remain inside your imagination long after the book is closed, set aside and that whatshisname mediocrity has grown too unlovely for the public at large.
Binnacle Press Book of the Month Review
The eponymous Rainbow Man is the town character, the man for whom the children experience a mixture of fear and fascination, and it is his way of looking at the world that provides the basis for the stories contained in this collection. And a varied selection they are, with angels and God himself appearing in unlikely places, with the lives people live inside their minds spilling out to affect the course of their material lives and with the endless permutations of relationships between the sexes. Some have an unexpected twist; I think particularly of "Letting Go", and the author seems particularly at ease with the subject of death and the act of dying. But without exception all twenty-three of the stories, exploring life both familiar and unfamiliar, leave the reader with something to think about, and linger in the mind long after the final page is turned.
The Irish Emigrant
James Joyce meets Ray Bradbury in David Gardiner’s collection of tales wrapped in the imaginings of children who hear a Cassandra/Wandering Jew-type sage mutter such things as “Ye know the trouble with youse northerners, your memories is too bloody long!”
Harlan Ellison might have written “Letting Go,” inspired by this fictional Delphic aphorism, if ANGRY CANDY Ellison considered that a victim of the Holocaust might need to let go of the past. Like all of Gardiner’s tales, the denouement of “Letting Go” is bound in a taut rainbow circle love-knot that contains truth. From the secretly vengeful ex-nun propitiating a religious fraud on a smugly progressive church in “Immaculata” to the lovelorn man and woman in “Blind Date,” each thinking the other is too good for them, Gardiner’s characters face the loneliness of illusion and the loneliness of truth. As the war criminal of “Letting Go” asks, “That’s all you want of me? The truth? A small thing like that?”
As Gardiner’s returning prodigal Irish son in “The Lies of Sleeping Dogs” discovers, the pretty truth is often the only comfort we have. The young narrator of “The Oracle at the Adelphi” learns that hell and heaven often come from the same source, and the fire of the Adelphi parallels the blaze planned by the Sir Lancelot-channeling protagonist of “Knight Errant.” Fire and rain recur like yin and yang in Gardiner’s stories.
It always rains in Ireland, from the foreboding drizzle of “The Lies of Sleeping Dogs” to the cleansing downpour that enables the Galahad-esque Benny of “Hand of God” to save a young Muslim woman fleeing an arranged marriage. The rain of Heaven and the storms in Gardiner’s universe blow into our lives not only devils and voodoo priests, but angels as well, and sometimes no one can tell the difference. As Benny’s Fatima (Our Lady of Fatima?) explains, “Perhaps that’s all an angel is: an ordinary man that Allah trusts.”
Through the prism of Gardiner’s lens, angels, rain and light combine to create the Rainbow Man’s remarkable bag of wisdom that adults and children alike need to open.