Blood Fire Vapor Smoke
A cycle akin to the seasons of a life, Blood Fire Vapor Smoke asks questions of the ancient struggle between life and death amidst landscapes new and old. Does ultimate forgiveness answer to ultimate violence in the world? What is the nature of grace? Who determines the fates that move us? A collection of stories opening upon the inner world with the abandon and gravity involved in personal and collective responsibility, the book responds to the present age of enragement, and the collapsing binary of two hungers: violence and forgiveness. Blood Fire Vapor Smoke considers the human myth of regeneration through violence, and the aftermath of loneliness, love, and yearning found in a more merciful expression of human existence. Violence is caught by love, and changed, transcended, and transformed into a yearning for restoration, atonement, and the fusion embodied in the true power of community, humility, and greater humanity. The characters in each of the four sections of this collection of stories and one long poem, pass through thresholds of knowledge and responsibility. Asking not what life owes them, but what they may receive from life, and in the end, just how they are responsible for life, those who people this collection cross into unforeseen places of mystery, mercy, and grace.
In Blood Fire Vapor Smoke, beyond our inevitable compulsions toward violent ends, healing calls, beckoning us toward a crossroads where we turn and face one another, finding the beauty and strength to serve and love one another again.
Praise from Authors and Booksellers
“The beauty of the language, the collection’s historical range, and Ray’s reach for—sometimes prayer for—mercy and compassion in the face of horrific violence, his insistence on the solace of beauty, make this a brave and worthy book of stories. It feels restless, not just because it moves among different physical settings, but because it moves from what can read as historical fiction to an intimate and contemporary mode, and because Ray works to see a driving masculinity prismatically. This restlessness, the unwillingness to conceive of a singular answer to the question of what nourishes the appetite for violence—in the kitchen, in theatres of war, in alleyways in ravaged cities—across the centuries and across continents, is true and inventive. The collection feels like a genuine inquiry in which salvation and damnation, wickedness and blessedness merge—a hard book to write, hard-won, and risky.”
– from the foreword by Noy Holland, author of Bird
“In his story collection BLOOD FIRE VAPOR SMOKE, Shann Ray once again proves he is a master at depicting the darkness and light that reside in every human soul. These stories range across time and place, exploring the generational violence that is passed down from grandfather to father to son in a never-ending cycle of violence and revenge. We are dropped in the middle of the killing fields of the Sand Creek Massacre, the bombed-out lands of a war-torn African nation, and the broken homes of families shattered by betrayal and hardened hearts. The overarching question Ray asks is how, among the rubble of human cruelty and violence, do we find the hope and strength to go on? How do we forgive the unforgivable? Is it possible to love someone who gouged out your last good eye? Someone who killed your son? Someone who killed all your people? These stories are relentless in not looking away from the horrors of humanity. There are no easy answers here, but in the bleak theater of blood and despair, we see glimmers of hope in the beauty of blue sky over a battlefield, in the flight of a flamingo rising from the devastated land, in the tender touch of those we thought we hated. Ultimately, Ray suggests redemption is found in forgiveness and love, and perhaps we would never be able to see the light if we had never known the darkness. These stories will burn you, but you will come out renewed.”
– Elise Atchison, contributing author of Unearthing Paradise