Deep Dive: Sleep Well, Gentle Beast

Short, Not Small

"Just because a story is short doesn't mean it's small." This is the kind of thing we're always saying at Chronicle, because we're big believers in the idea that fiction can be both compact and impactful. It's the adage that best sums up the greatest short story writers of the last generation - Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, Raymond Carver. These are people who pioneered the post-modern short story, who laid the foundation for the work we're doing at Chronicle. There is a sense of history in those words, a torch lain down at the end of the middle of the last decade. 

Hi, My Name Is

Christian J Tomlins is part of a wave of young writers who are picking up the torch, who are taking the work of Davis and Hempel and running with it. Sleep Well, Gentle Best is a brilliant little minute of bittersweet mindfulness. It calls to mind a one-page entry by one of the great writers of the late 20th century with its candor and compactness. 

The Sweet, The Bitter

Sleep Well, Gentle Beast opens as if on the scene of a beached whale, with the speaker watching from a distance as people are banding together to save it. Already we are set with a juxtaposition: the dying whale and the vitality of the people helping. This scene seems to end on a positive note:

Having patched its wounds, the people breathed a sigh of relief as the large creature now slept soundly. “Sleep well, oh gentle beast” they whispered.

But Tomlins hasn't finished with us yet. He turns his narrative focus, now, to the scene of watchers, where a young girl and the narrator exchange a few words. There is a classic pessimist vs optimist clash in their dialogue, as the narrator explains that he believes that people are essentially kind, whereas the girl comments that she may be dreaming, because people are rarely so kind.

The story ends on a great note, with the songlike callback to the phrase of the creature that has been saved. "Sleep well, gentle beast." The girl says as the speaker walks away, realizing that she was talking to him. This line of comparison between the beast, which needs to be in the constant care of the rallied people in order to survive, and the narrator, suggesting that perhaps optimism lives in the social sphere, needs to be cultivated, and that cynicism is the response of the young and isolated. 

About the Author

Christian is an American student living in a small town in Michigan. He is currently studying mathematics at the University of Michigan Flint and also enjoys music, writing, composing, and film.