Reviewed by Marcus Hammond

A redwood withstands the ravages of its environment; a butterfly embraces its instinctual migration pattern; a mother wolf struggles to protect her family, and a whale tells how different outside forces have impacted ocean life. It is these four, unique voices that piece together Jay Amberg’s short story collection, Cycle.

Amberg provides each living organism its own voice through first person narration. In “Redwood Ring” a redwood tells about the biological, ecological, and atmospheric processes that work together to both promote life and destruction in its forest. The process of growth, feeding on sunlight, sickness, and death all combine to create a striking portrait of one of the most majestic tree’s role in the woods and the world at large.

The longest story in the collection titled “Alpha” gives a voice to a dominant mother wolf. She tells of her maternal instincts to protect her pups at all costs while maintaining her status as the pack leader. She describes her pack’s hunting techniques and their need to migrate for survival during the brutal winters. Her tale moves from hopeful playfulness of a happy and healthy pack to the harsh struggles of starvation that forces her family to survive at all costs.

While the focus of each story is the biorhythms of each organism, each also contains an element of warning. In “Whale Song” an imposing, mature sperm whale speaks directly to the reader about the devastating effects that mankind has brought upon the ocean and his species. In another example of mankind’s influence on nature, the wolf mother in “Alpha” notices a strange creature in the air near her den. The presence of this abnormality, presumably a helicopter carrying a research team, throws the pack into an uproar. The one downside to this particular inclusion is that the description stretches the animal’s unique voice past what seems natural through the rest of the story.

Overall, each story paints a vivid picture of how complex and fragile a system the natural world is. Amberg cleverly mixes biology and fiction to provide an enjoyable, at times, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking view into the wheel of life that everything and everyone is surrounded by and has an impact on.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Jay Amberg. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.