A collection of short stories that drips with artistry and revelatory truths, Where the Wind Can Find It is a masterful exploration of the struggle between who and where we were and are, and who we want to be.
Ben Nickol’s leading piece, “As If Any Moment,” took me as soon as the first sentence. I immediately knew I had the work of a memorably talented writer in my hands. It is told from the perspective of a woman, seemingly in her early forties or late thirties. From the beginning, it is void of fluff (points for Nickol!). The narrator gives us a brief description of a relative from her past who gambled, takes us in one compelling memoir-esque direction, and beautifully guides us the other way, into the main story. I didn’t realize until a number of pages in that this small paragraph, which I dismissed as fluff not two pages before, served as the grounding point for everything that came after. It is a wonderful gift to know that there are still writers who can surprise me. Because of its twists and beautiful writing style, “As If Any Moment” is undoubtedly the perfect introduction to Ben Nickol.
Throughout the collection, Nickol shows his ability to shock—or rather, his willingness to give a shocking detail and move to the next without skipping a beat, as if to say: “I can’t be bothered to wait for you to process this. I have a story to tell.” He illustrates a truth about the world—that those moments happen almost without our full realization, and life goes on whether we have processed it or not. Life doesn’t stop when we’re inconvenienced by the blitz, and we can’t stop even when we’re blind-sided. Best of all, he insinuates that those moments aren’t the most important anyway. The aftermath is the echo that expands and fills us until we burst. Nickol explores the aftermaths and how we deal with those breathtaking moments, those “revelatory truths.”
“At Your Side” is one of my other favorites from this collection. A priest, the narrator, is put in the depressing situation of presiding over the funeral of a recently deceased young man in his mid-twenties. This piece especially plucked my heartstrings because it focuses heavily on the struggles of getting writing just right. The narrator notes that this is indeed most of his job, and he comes back to this center so much that the piece ends on it. It made me think thank you! when I read: “Like a writer, we encounter him only in his product, while his toil of production remains hidden.” Satisfying to read, especially when he expounded on the specific toils of writing and mentioned that it takes him a week to write one service (Hallelujah!).
Beyond my personal satisfaction, I loved this because I saw some of the writer rather than his product. I have to imagine that Nickol himself was struggling with his writing in some capacity (though quite frankly, you can’t tell), and decided to write through it. What a journal entry! In the three pages that focus entirely on the honesty of writing, the narrator expresses extreme distress at suddenly feeling that every word on his notepad sounds insincere. He crosses out his niceties, born of practice. It all somehow feels hollow, perhaps because of the formulaic way in which he has come to write every homily he recites.
By the end, he hasn’t solved this issue, as often is the case with writers. Sometimes we just have to put what we’ve got out there because we have a deadline and there are words on the page. Sometimes that really is the best we’ve got. There’s a massive struggle in accepting what we are capable of today even though we were so much more capable yesterday. Truths. Revelations, even, for writers and non-writers alike. With this piece, Ben Nickol has gifted us a most unobstructed view into part of himself.
In this collection, Nickol unabashedly dives into subjects that are purposefully left to dust and cobwebs— and entertains us completely while he does it. His characters jump off the page with their complicated feelings and personalities. Even when this complication makes them unlikeable, I was still compelled to follow them through to the end. But please, go see for yourself. More brilliance awaits you. Pick up a copy of Where the Wind Can Find It as soon as you can.