Short Stories 366:112 — “Keeper of the Flame,” by Greg Herren

coverIf there’s an unfolding theme of Greg Herren’s Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, it’s in his use of the unreliable narrator, or in his slow twists of character into noir revelations. This is put on layered display in “Keeper of the Flame,” where we meet Colleen, the daughter of an author who had a kind of flash-in-the-pan almost celebrity in the world of noir fiction, but was waylaid by an editor on his third book. She is not in a good place; specifically, she’s in Las Vegas, but she’s also hungover, obviously emotionally barely holding it together, and struggling to make it past the morning hours without drinking.

Colleen has agreed to meet with a blog reporter to discuss her father, and it’s clear she considers it her duty to maintain the image of her father as a man who could have been so much more, but instead was ruined at the hands of an editor, despite loathing what has become of journalism and knowing this blog reporter will likely be just another in an endless stream of lesser people she’d rather not deal with at all. As their interview progresses, Colleen’s disdain for the blogger shifts when he asks questions of her narrative that most don’t. She realizes she’s a bit too drunk and a bit too raw for the conversation, but it’s too late and as she spins her usual tale, the reader gets glimpses into the reality of the situation with the author, the editor, and Colleen herself, among other major players in the truth of her father’s downfall.

Herren’s dark turns here happen with a kind of one-two punch throughout “Keeper of the Flame,” where the revelations melt into each other, growing a tale more disturbing with every new drip of truth Colleen finds herself remembering despite herself. The tale runs to an end that feels both inevitable and shocking, which is no small feat, and ultimately this tale of terrible people and the broken left behind is a shudder-inducing one.

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