“A World of Good,” a work of short story fiction by Dan Sharkovitz. Copyright 2019 by Dan Sharkovitz. 49 pages in glossy paperback. Self-published. $20 .Available at Bunch of Grapes, Main Street, Vineyard Haven and at Edgartown Books, Main Street, Edgartown and at Island libraries, including Chilmark and West Tisbury.
Dan Sharkovitz was chairman of the English Department at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) for 18 years before retiring in 2017. In the year and a half since he retired, Sharkovitz has written new stories, rewritten some previously published work, and self-published his first book, 49 short stories titled “A World of Good.”
Depending on your commitment to these stories, it will take you somewhere between one hour and the rest of your life to understand and take the value from what he’s done here. What we get are a series of internal thought progressions and projected conversations that could, and in most cases did, happen in real time between two people. But many also feel like the silent two-way conversations we have with ourselves, the conversations we practice for a conversation with a real person in real time — if we summon the courage or the articulation to have it.
I had never met Sharkovitz in person until we sat down recently to discuss his book. Former students I’ve talked with over the years regularly describe him in terms that present the 38-year teacher and mentor as a literary Mr. Chips (Google it).
Now, I didn’t understand some of these one, two, and three-page stories. But one of Sharkovitz’s talents is to put a twist of meaning on everyday words and imagery, which fascinated me long enough to realize that these stories were making me revisit episodes in my own life. This is “the rest of your life” part. I heard some uncomfortable echoes of my own life, and sensed that I could know exactly what was going on — if I were willing to do the work, to go there.
It’s apparent that Sharkovitz knew what he was doing in this collection. Consider the preface he used, from Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse”: ”Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark … “ It’s an inside job for Sharkovitz. No car chases or exploding buildings. In fact, no beginnings, middles, or ends, just moments in time.
Now, the writing in this book is remarkably diverse. Some stories are lyrical, poetic, some are passages with a beat you could dance to. Those are mainly from Sharkovitz’s days as a member of the Stone Soup Poetry writer’s group in Cambridge years ago. Other stories involve a stream-of-consciousness technique, a well-defined and artistically recognized form of writing that I have largely resented because it often loses me. In this book, those conversations are ones he had as a small boy with patients his mother brought home for holiday dinners from the mental health facility where she worked.
You can see Sharkovitz writing a mosaic, each word carefully colored and configured to support the whole. “Here’s the Thing” is one-third of a page yet is a primer that can lead us to safety. “Underway,” my favorite, defines a relationship in a novel, yet familiar, way. And there are several others that tell a life story, without events or detail, yet describe how the character got to where they are. Sharkovitz does it with imagery and words that fit perfectly. Quite something, that quality of writing.
We spoke with Sharkovitz about his book, saying that time and reality are recurring themes in these stories. “I’m often asked where do you get ideas for stories. The truth is I don’t really know of a process where stories come from. I know that some come from personal experiences and others from the fringes of my imagination. And I know that car chases don’t fascinate me as much as the events in our interior lives. “Took me a year and one half to write something about human beings, captured in time, that moved me. Look at any day, month or year: you can pull an idea out and build characters and stories out of events. Time is integral here as a continuum, without a time-defined beginning, middle, and end,” he said.
Sharkovitz takes personal delight in the existential. Being in situations, with people or just seeing a low-angled late afternoon sun he’s never seen in that way before. “With regard to reality, one of the small joys of writing fiction is that you don’t have to know everything, or sometimes anything, you are writing about,” he said. “Being connected to the real world provides so many opportunities to explore reality and to render it in shapes that fascinate you and hopefully others.”