To See Behind Walls is a collection of flash fiction short stories written by J.M. Erickson. The author was inspired by James Thurber's classic short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. While the original followed the imaginary adventures in heroism of a middle-aged man in the years before World War II, Erickson's Benjamin Wood is a modern-day family man. His own flights of fancy and adventure, while having a decidedly modern touch to them, are still in many ways the same stuff. While technology has leapfrogged into the future, and the environment is poised for destruction, Benjamin's fantasies feed from the same source as Mitty's dreamer's did. In the first flash fiction tale, "The Bedroom", Colonel Wood is defying Mission Control in his efforts to save a young Chinese astronaut, his only real contact with the outside world being Ola, the computer's AI. In "The Basement", Wood remembers his time spent at McMurdo Station in Antarctica thirty years earlier, as he braves the Observation Deck of Mount Washington Observatory in deep winter to bring a generator to an unheated shed housing smallpox patients. In The Kitchen, Captain Benjamin Wood pilots an aging plane filled with supplies bound for England, now under quarantine for Ebola.
I've read, and thoroughly enjoyed, a number of J.M. Erickson's novels and short stories in the past, so I was eager to get started reading To See Behind Walls. As expected, this prolific and talented author had me vicariously experiencing the adventures of Benjamin Wood, and I loved every minute of each one. Erickson has the ability to instantly create every minute of each one. Erickson has the ability to instantly create scenes that crackle with intensity and that skill works marvelously for flash fiction. I was there with Colonel Wood as he raced against time, deep in outer space, and I could feel the tension of Captain Wood as he and his copilot attempt to make contact with the control tower. However, for me, the real gem in this collection is "The Basement." Perhaps, it was especially up my alley as I've had a life long fascination with Antarctica, and I can still visualize a recent YouTube video set on the Observation Deck of Mount Washington Observatory in exactly the kind of weather described. But it was more than that. Erickson breathed heart and soul into each and every one of Wood’s tales, and his discussion with his daughter about the original ties everything up beautifully.
This tale of courage, conviction and adventure will most likely thrill any reader who has the good fortune to come across it. I'm hoping for more flash fiction from Mr. Erickson. To See Behind Walls is most highly recommended -Jack Magnus (5 Stars)
Inspired by The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, written in the late 1930s and published by the New Yorker magazine, To See Behind Walls is an interesting short story that introduces its readers to Benjamin Wood, loving husband, father of two and benevolent dog owner whose mundane daily activities are interspersed with vivid flights of fancy where our everyman protagonist morphs into a larger-than-life hero who is doing his small part to save the world one person at a time. The short chapters are somewhat mundanely named "The Bedroom," "The Basement," "The Kitchen" and "The Attic," most likely to characterize and underscore the ordinary aspects of the protagonist’s everyday life.
In the first chapter, Benjamin Wood is a senior astronaut whose routine mission of running supplies out to the International Space Station is interrupted when he risks his own life to save a young Chinese astronaut whose pod has been damaged by a nine millimeter particle flying through outer space. After a few hairy minutes, our fine senior astronaut manages to save his damsel in distress – only to be forced back to reality when his Shih Tzu, Roxanne, demands to be let out for her morning constitutional. Benjamin slips out of his warm bed, already thinking about the generator that needs starting as he promises his wife breakfast. The second chapter opens with Benjamin battling 40 mph winds and pelting snow at the Mount Washington Observatory as he struggles against the brutal elements in order to save a young woman felled by smallpox. Just as he succeeds, Benjamin is forced back to reality as he reaches the shed and rolls out the generator while walking his dog. The last two chapters also deal with equally heroic flights of fancy with the author’s protagonist in equally important missions to save and conquer, juxtaposed by in equally important missions to save and conquer, juxtaposed by ordinary, everyday life in Benjamin’s real world.
Somewhat ironically, Benjamin’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Aretha, has an assignment where her class is reading The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Not particularly impressed with the story, Aretha complains about the story’s relevance to modern day and asks her father why Walter Mitty imagines “stuff.” Benjamin’s reply is key to understanding the purpose of this book. He explains to his daughter that while the world around Walter rages out of control, his imagination gives him a chance to be someone in control; someone who can do things that make a difference.
In other words, his imaginary world gives him control in a world where there is no control. Well said, and this simple explanation truly gets to the heart of To See Behind Walls. J.M. Erickson’s prose is simple and lacks hubris. The author merely tries to illustrate that we all have some form of control over our everyday lives – and in what form that control manifests itself is entirely up to us. For those with a vivid imagination, the sky’s the limit. Altogether, an inspiring flight of fancy. - Marta Tandori (4 Stars)
J.M. Erickson’s To See Behind Walls is a short story about Benjamin Wood, an average twenty-first century father who uses the mechanism of fantasy to escape from and cope with the everyday, monotonous realities of life. The author writes his story in the tradition of James Thurber’s short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Erickson’s story is divided into four parts. In the first three he begins with vivid, movie-like action sequences in which he is the hero of a dangerous mission or endeavor. But then the action of the story shifts to real life. He really wasn’t dangling in the vacuum of space, or trudging through the snows of the Antarctic, or flying a planeload of supplies into a quarantine zone. He was just a real dad performing real-life tasks to interact with and take care of his family. The final part of the story is a poignant encounter with the character’s daughter in which he tries to help her understand why a man might sometimes dwell in his own world of fantasy.
I must confess that I am not a frequent reader of short stories. But this work is so much more than a short story! It is a metaphor of postmodern manhood and fatherhood. It speaks to the adventurous souls of men who are trapped inside very ordinary, boring lives. Indeed, men were not designed to be locked up inside offices and cubicles. The spirit of man craves danger, exploration, discovery, and adventure. So, like Ben Wood, most of us men have to seek that fulfillment of adventure elsewhere. We find it in weekend excursions, movies, and semi-dangerous hobbies. And, like Ben Wood, all of us from time to time escape into the world of our like Ben Wood, all of us from time to time escape into the world of our own thoughts and fantasies.
To See Behind Walls gives everyone a glimpse behind the fragile wall of postmodern manhood. And that glimpse is telling, confessional, and powerful. A five-star short story, in my opinion. It spoke to me. It left me wanting more. I would honestly like to see how each of Ben Wood’s fantasy adventures played out. That is, I believe, the key to a great short story. - Geoff Baggett (5 Stars)