Review: Atoms and Other Small Pieces by L. N. Nino ★★★★★

Atoms and Other Small Pieces by L. N. NinoAtoms and Other Small Pieces is a short collection of fiction by author L. N. Nino, with the general theme of small details and the transition into horrible, deeply humanistic developments.

The first story, eponymous “Atoms,” compares and contrasts typical storytelling with the emotional existence of a non-sentient protagonist – a chemical compound – with the circumstances of a human tragedy; the second, “Debris,” centers on the story of a loveless mother-child relationship; the third, “Pennies,” ascribes itself an extended letter from a self-described philosopher of modern masculine virtue and creative genius who has fallen into difficult and unfair circumstances; finally, “Bubbles” is a sad, morbid poem based loosely on the author’s childhood experience of Rio de Janeiro.

It should be noted that it is difficult to reveal much about these stories without spoiling their interesting qualities, being that the longest is a mere 10 pages, and the shortest only 2; their total is only roughly 30 pages. The book is wholly a very brief read, and while this very short length seems unlikely to hold much value, the opposite is true; these very sharply-focused tales are honed to succinct points that deliver their intriguing ideas and emotional impacts with extremely careful, skilled writing. However, this should not be mistaken for a work on level footing with a piece of longer fiction or a larger collection of works, and the decision to collect these on their own – despite their fitting very neatly – seems unusual, and the book could easily be mistaken for something longer, if not more substantial.

Nino’s usual dark, human tragedy remains on form from previous works such as The Brain Within Its Groove and The Gray Man, sticking to his signatory elaborate writing style, ripe with a Gothic style of horror through omission and visceral detail left to be discovered between the lines. Expect to be left in the dark about how to feel until the final few lines have been processed as Nino displays a keen sense of how to keep a reader on edge without resorting to base fears.

That said, “Atoms” remains somehow the most memorable of the abridged anthology, partially due to its unique willingness here to take a step into the more graphical and emotive, while “Pennies” sticks out in contrast for remaining aloof. Both “Debris” and “Bubbles” remain impactful, but become sidelined by the far longer counterparts they surround. The collection would most likely have benefited from a greater selection to give the whole a longer-lasting, more memorable quality, although whether adding any further work for the sake of completeness would erode the tight knit remains in question.

Readers should be aware of the length of this exceptionally ‘small piece,’ but it is nonetheless very good, entertaining work that promises worth in its reading and subsequent re-reading. Nino’s astute writing once again enchants and engages, though hangs uncomfortably on difficult subjects, described in a very fine method of wording that may have some readers searching for a Thesaurus. If death and despair are subjects you’d like to avoid, this collection is certainly off your reading list, but for lovers of the Gothic and darkly comic (emphasis on the dark), Nino delivers a refreshing modern supply of the well-worn genre.

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