Wonderful! That is my first thought after I read Len Kuntz’ shorts collection The Dark Sunshine. Indicative of the title, these little ditties have glimpses of the appalling, humorous, and hopeful nature of the human condition. I found myself rooting for and sympathizing with his characters in the short amount of time I had with each story. In these reflective stories, Kuntz packs a whole lot into each micro, flash, and short fiction piece. There are no weak pieces in the 54 story collection and is evident why Len Kuntz is widely published in the small press.
I am beginning at the end here because themes in The Dark Sunshine are wrapped up neatly in two sentences in the final story “Red Pennies.” Here we find the seedy underbelly of society, explanation of cruelty, and the complacency that creeps in and keeps one from moving forward.
“Crimes against humanity are usually acts of insanity. She read a version of that in a stall at the Chevron station when she was bolder and considering fleeing.”
Kuntz addresses a multitude of crimes that happen behind closed doors, horrors that are kept secret, and the effect on the innocent. Adult/child relationships are prevalent and first introduced subtly in “Bad Connection,” leading the reader through time only making a brief connection to why the sister is emotionally inept.
“In a sixteen month span—the entire time our uncle lived with us—my sister’s mane went from cobalt to burgundy to ink-blot black, then bald.”
But this theme comes through loud and clear in “Oriole,” as one man’s abuse becomes the son’s destiny as played out through the irony of his father’s police issued weapon. As the drama begins to escalate the young narrator offers, “I change my view and I find his gun on the coffee table, the holster flapped over like a rubber chicken, like a giant scab. Why not use that on me, I think, but I know the answer. The pistol is for killing criminals, hands are for family.”
How can a reviewer give anything more than a vague description of a body of work that deserves so much more? Kuntz’s prose speaks for itself. All that is needed is a quote party to get your attention, to persuade you that The Dark Sunshine should be on your top ten fiction collection list too. For example, in “Things I Know About Rabbit Holes,” Kuntz shows off his writing chops in this story about regret and sorrow:
“Inside the tunnels, each time I reached for him, my son wafted apart, like a wraith, a sheet of human panels played against the light like a radiant quilt.”
Or in one of my favorite pieces in the collection, “Written in Stone,” a tough and gritty piece that incorporates fear, acceptance, and compassion into the story line. In the following line of dialogue we can see what a thoughtful writer Kuntz is as this story about two brothers standing among thousands of rocks with secrets written on them begins to take a turn.
“They won’t last long anyway.”
“Why?” I asked.
“In summer, the snow melt will come off the mountains and fill the stream and everyone’s secret will either get washed away or washed clean.”
If you are thinking this collection sounds like you will need an anti-depressant after, no worries. There are many laughs and chuckles in between to even it out. “Greener Gardens” is a hilarious piece in which a wife initiates a kinky evening with her husband after 50 years of marriage, but is rejected by him. She is then compelled to abandon him at that very moment, leaving him handcuffed to a chair. Kuntz effectively moves through time, creating enough space to forget about the cuffing and reintroduces the scenario at the right moment, therefore making it impossible to keep from busting out laughing. There are various levels of humor in the collection as seen in the stories “Lionel Ritchie Runs Things” and “The Hater’s Club.”
I can’t say enough about this collection, and as a writer myself, I must pay Len Kuntz the finest of compliments. All writers—especially those who write prose—should read The Dark Sunshine because this is the gold standard. This is what we read to make ourselves better writers. This is what we all aspire to.