Omicron Ceti III
Thomas P. Balázs. Aqueous Books, $14 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-0-9847399-0-5

Don’t let the sci-fi tinged title fool you, the rich stories in Balázs’ debut collection are earthbound and invariably human. Billed as a triptych, the book is carved into three sections of three thus giving us nine stories in all. It opens slowly with Niddah—a tale of a schoolgirl who must face family, classmates, and herself as she deals with her changing, menstruating body—but quickly builds with My Secret War and the title story Omicron Ceti III, the latter of which is a Star Trek reference. In the opening story, Balázs boldly writes from the perspective of the young woman, and while his rendering comes across as honest, the story as a whole, absent of a strong arc, falls flat. Things pick up in My Secret War as a homosexual student spies his English teacher outside a gay bar and then decides to press the issue, setting off a wonderful, uncomfortable game of cat and mouse. The title story is the true gem of the first third as a mentally disturbed man searches for love and reasons to live while wrestling with his troubled past. The momentum carries, and the stories of the second third build steadily and powerfully. In The Music Man, Balázs creates an outstanding character in Dinah, a desperate, selfish, depressed woman who hounds a kindhearted grad student. However, the wordscapes Balázs so deftly paints in the following The Sea of Faith and April Paris fade away too abruptly as he mashes the accelerator to reach tidy, though too speedy endings. The stories here feel more like the seeds of novels, particularly April Paris where we follow a young man as he explores the highs and lows of love, sex, and drugs in a crowded, volatile New York City loft. And then later in The Gourmand, the opening story of the final third, Balázs shows us an amazing character obsessed with the far lesser-known cuisines of varied cultures. The story is playful at times, and at other times fearless and shocking, but in the final moments it loses its legs as the curtain drops and we’re rushed from the theater. Teeming with deep, layered characters who flirt with the fringe but who exist among us, whether hidden or in plain view, these stories are at their very best when taking hard, unexpected turns, something for which Balázs has a fine, cutting instinct. (January 2012)

Purchase Omicron Ceti III HERE.

Reviewer bio:  Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel FREIGHT. Visit his website at melbosworth.com
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