The young boy’s obsession with jumping from heights and falling detailed in “Free-fall” takes on an interesting subtext given the backdrop of his childhood. Be it launching himself from atop his wardrobe to his bed or leaping headlong over the banister at the top of the stairs in the family’s home to a makeshift landing pad on the floor below, are the acts merely examples of a young boy’s natural energy, or do they reflect the deeper pathology of a person driven to seek the adrenaline rush derived from being in dangerous, fight or flight situations?
“Infected” shows how a fatherless twelve-year-old can be mislead into finding purpose and guidance in the flashy uniforms and military organization of the Aryan Youth, while “Drive This” and “Listen Here to Me” find a teenager willing to unleash lethal judgment on those perceived to have wronged him or his family, even if the person on the receiving end of the young man’s vengeance is family. And “Collecting” and “No Exceptions” are stark examples of the casual violence McGowan graduates to as a man working with the IRA.
Uniformly dark and undeniably noir, the writing in As Close As You’ll Ever Be nevertheless has a poetic beauty to it in spite of the bleakness and (often graphic) violence depicted. That some of the most powerful stories in the collection are the shortest is a reflection of the power of Scanlon’s prose. “Teenage Sniper” is a hauntingly beautiful juxtaposition of two lights fading, that of a day and of a life, which barely clocks in at a full page, while “Another One” compresses the weariness of a lifetime of violence and anger into four pages that will have both your corpus and conscience aching in sympathy.
Those are merely two examples of a truth you will find from cover to cover in As Close As You’ll Ever Be; Seamus Scanlon is an author who clearly understands that with words, as with bullets, it’s their placement that really matters, not the volume fired off. And Scanlon always hits his target.