‘Byzantium’ by Ben Stroud

‘Byzantium’, stories by Ben Stroud (2013) – 206 pages

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When our thoughts turn to historical fiction, we usually think of long epic novels which evoke a particular time and place in history.  However several of the stories in ‘Byzantium’ show us that historical fiction can also be in the short story form.

Did you know that the Emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium in 330 AD and renamed the city Constantinople?  In 1923 the city was again renamed to its modern name Istanbul.  It must have been an incredible move to take the entire government of the empire from Rome to what is now Turkey.

The ten stories in ‘Byzantium’ have the depth and density of a novel yet also contain the individualized point of view of a short story.  The stories range from ancient Roman times to modern times, from ancient Byzantium to east Texas.  Even though the settings for the stories are wide ranging, they get down to the specifics of individuals and the relationships between them. We get inside the head of the main character in each story.

The stories are outdoor and action-oriented.   They are not drawing room comedies.  If I sense a weakness in the author, it is in dialogue.  Don’t look for witty repartee here.  Stroud is no Oscar Wilde; the dialogue is more suited for stone tablets rather than for the stage.

However the stories are extremely well presented and are evidence of a vivid imagination.  Ben Stroud does an excellent job of framing each story to fully capture its significance for the readers.

A particular favorite of mine is ‘At Boquillas’ which takes place along the shallow Rio Grande border between Mexico and the United States.  A modern-day young husband and wife confront their marital difficulties.    Getting out of a failed marriage may be as easy and as momentous as walking across the shallow water into Mexico.

‘Byzantium’ is a strong collection of offbeat and vastly different stories.

 

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