Mouth like Burned Wood by Jan M. Leotti is a beautiful collection consisting of two vignettes and two short stories that detail and capture childhood in an enchanting and mesmerizing voice. Leotti’s words create silence throughout both pieces—a lingering feeling of watching from afar a scene that is filled with intimate narration. The short, poetic glimpses feel stolen—read silently like the opening scene of falling snow.
This piece has such a simple structure yet it is filled with vivid images that hold gravity and weighs much. Reading her vignettes is the equivalent of picking through a roll of film—a series of still images—that start to gain life before your eyes. It is magical—containing moments of profound thoughts on life and death.
The beginning is set at a graveyard where the narrator and her mother visit her father every “Christmastime.” We eventually catch glimpses of her life as a child growing up through the same reflective scenes.
Honest writing entrances me and Leotti invokes honesty of the adult, the parents, and relationships capturing these fragmentary moments of life. A life that is not perfect, where her short sentences work to create rich scenes.
Words and themes like absence, death, snow and adolescence are repeated throughout. Repetition can be overwhelming within short works; however the repetition works perfectly here. The writer displays an ability to give just the right amount. There is no pressure to tie themes together. They come like small surprises waiting amid the words, flowing quite naturally.
However, because of the short length (and skilled writing), it would be wrong to assume that the amount of pages requires little reading. These short vignettes pack a punch. The words are carefully constructed and the characters naturally written, with meticulous details paid to each scene. Mouth like Burned Wood is poetry—beautiful and simple with a lyrical flow that remains throughout the piece.
As a reader and a writer, I’ve come to acknowledge that the most striking and memorable literary works are the ones that appear so natural it seems as though the voice is just a consciousness that begins talking. How Leotti is able to keep distance and intimacy so closely tied is beyond me. The language is stripped bare, in many ways leaving the narrator naked and open. Honest.
Because of its length, any descriptions of these scenes would be an injustice to the poetic nature and possible hours of editing and writing that went into creating these compact vignettes.
As a reader who absolutely adores the fragmentary nature of vignettes (because of their ability to capture the rawness of life on paper) I would recommend this book! The only possible criticism that I can offer is that the book itself is very short—only twenty-seven pages. If you are searching for a book that has a single plot carried through by drama, keep on looking. This book is marked by lyrical and simple language that makes Mouth Like Burned Wood more than a satisfying read.