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Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers' Favorite
Perhaps if one were to come across the tattered remains of an abandoned book strewn across an otherwise barren, desert landscape, reading what survived might be similar to reading the so-concise-as-to-be-downright-miserly words of Robert D. Rice II in his collection of historically-based, short story fiction: Burn Marks. Sentences are short. Sparse. Raw. Not a complex one among them. Hemingway on a stroke. But, just as our solitary wanderer through a barren land would not discard his literary find, would, in fact, savor each one of those remaining printed words, would actually twist and squeeze the parched pages to release any moisture of comprehension, or any coherent story, so the reader of Burn Marks finds himself immersed, engaged, and utterly compelled to decipher the meaning and the story hidden within each selection. Because the words are chosen well. Because the words are clear and pithy. Because the words work well together. Thus, these stories, stark as they may be, emerge as if truly self-discovered.
Each story in Robert D. Rice II’s Burn Marks is anchored in a well-known historical event. Leopold and Loeb, Julian and Ethel Rosenberg, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. But the event is not the story. Not even the focal point. The event is more like a point of reference for all that is not said to locate one in time and space. A sort of marker for the brain to fill in huge gaps of literary non-description. Leaving one instead the words of immediacy and power. Words of encounter. Like stepping into a boxing ring where written words replace all those mighty, if gloved, punches. How better, how precisely, to describe the Kennedy aftermath: “The country found itself in the deep end of the pool.” Exactly.