Water. It's a common thematic element in fiction. It can signify cleansing, innocence, life and death. In Justin Bogdanovitch's short story collection, Sand Castles and Other Stories, water flows through his scenes as he gives seemingly innocent water borne pastimes a dark and vulnerable side. Warm beaches, languid cruise ships and inviting swimming pools all become menacing swirls of darkness, dragging down the reader as well as the occasional character.
Mr. Bogdanovitch's characters range from contemptible wretches to disinterested observers; satisfied to watch life or death pass in front of them as they chronicle the tedium of life. We all know people like this, these are not the second stringers of life content to ride the bench, they are the third string, wallowing through life's torrents, drifting along, hoping that their seemingly erratic direction will steer them into safety and comfort. His characters stay close to the water, the beach or the river; looking for redemption, a cleansing or a quick escape. In 'Typecast' we meet a journeyman actor who falls all too easily into his character, a "backwoods drug pusher and thief." In When the 'Ship Sinks,' the central character's total involvement consists of giving away the ending of a novel. "The mortician did it," he sulks as an interested party picks up a discarded book then tosses it away. In 'Sandcastle,' we listen in from an all too close perspective as an incredibly dark scene unfolds in front of us. It's the type of story that gives one nightmares; we're close to the tragedy, we try to scream and warn the victim but in this nightmare we've lost our voice so no one hears our scream. The waves crash, the ocean's warm water rushes over us but our voice is muted.
Mr. Bogdanovitch's tales are unsettling and foreboding and will leave you with an uneasy feeling, but that's what he's after. This is a writer exploring the darker side of the human condition and he does so impressively. Mr. Bogdanovitch is a riveting story teller. Sandcastle and Other Stories is a wonderful collection of writing, a fluid and clever debut, just the appetizer to warm one up for his upcoming novel, Wake Me Up.