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review 2017-12-30 18:21
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories - Alice Munro

The title story in this volume is fantastic. The slow unfolding and peeling back the layers of the story, the host of well-realized and believable characters bumping up against one another, the historical Canadian setting, and the surprise ending: I loved it all, and am not at all surprised that a movie was based on this 50-page story. It’s better than many a novel.

And there are a couple other stories here that I liked. “Comfort” is about the death of a husband, a severe biology teacher who fought the incursion of religion into the curriculum. I enjoyed this mostly for the husband’s story, and was less interested in the wife’s grieving and found the end to peter out. The last story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” follows a philandering but loving husband whose wife develops dementia and embarks on a nursing home romance. This one is poignant and its situations interesting, though I didn’t ever feel I knew enough about the wife and their relationship to completely engage.

The remaining six stories seemed to me to be variations on a theme, and it’s a theme Munro fully developed in The Beggar Maid, which I previously read and enjoyed. The protagonist is a woman who is searching for herself, who has an unsatisfying marriage; some of the stories focus more on the marriage, others on her life before or after. Sometimes she leaves, although this was an uncommon choice at the time these stories are set, while other times she contents herself with a fling. Her family background includes a dead mother and remarried father, living in some small town she has left behind. Her story involves learning about herself or about life and how to live in it.

These aren’t bad stories, but they didn’t particularly speak to me. In some cases I felt like perhaps I was a generation too young to appreciate the societal influences on these women and how those influences shaped them. The way the women fail to assert themselves in their relationships and make their needs known, the way their marriages often seemed to be strange and independent creatures rather than partnerships negotiated by the people involved, even in a world not too far removed from the modern one, left something of a blank for me. And because these are quiet, character-driven tales, it’s hard to appreciate them if they don’t speak to you.

All that said, of course these are very well-written stories, as one would expect from a Nobel Prize winner. I didn’t enjoy them all as much as I’d hoped; I wish Munro had included more along the lines of the first story. But it’s good literature, and I’m happy to have read it.

--

A question for those who have read more Munro than I: is this collection specifically thematically focused, perhaps to fit its title, or does all her work focus on these same preoccupations? What Munro collection should I read next if my goal is finding one that doesn’t feel repetitive after The Beggar Maid and this book?

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review 2017-12-13 18:45
The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror by William Meikle
The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror - William Meikle

 

Picture the scene: Victorian London. A smoky club. A group of literary icons. The price to join this group? A story of the supernatural. The scene is now set.

 

Imagine the tales these writers of old would share. Stoker, Dickens, Wells, James, and Stevenson, among others. What price would you pay to sit at that table? Unfortunately, the opportunity to sit there in person is gone, but thanks to William Meikle, you CAN now be privy to these stories and anything else these authors have to say. The entrance fee for you? Quite reasonable!

 

The standout tales for me were:

 

WEE DAVIE MAKES A FRIEND (in the style of) Robert Louis Stevenson. This was the first story and my favorite of the collection. Young Davie is an unwell boy and is often bedridden. The gift of a new toy changes his life.

 

ONCE A JACKASS (in the style of) Mark Twain. A Mississippi steamship captain makes a terrible mistake and unfortunately, all of the passengers and crew pay the price.

 

THE SCRIMSHAW SET (in the style of Henry James) I adored this tale of a haunted (?) chess set. This was my second favorite tale in this collection and I've just read that the author is planning to write more about this set in the future. I can't wait!

 

TO THE MOON AND BEYOND (in the style of Jules Verne) A super cool story about a man, his rocket and a trip to the moon. What was found there and what did he bring back with him? You'll have to read this to find out!

 

BORN OF ETHER (in the style of Helena Blavatsky) A man embarks upon a supernatural journey to freedom.

 

I was not familiar with a few of the authors here, Helena Blavatsky included, but I think the author did a stellar job of emulating their writing styles. These tales were entertaining, well written and I loved the framework within which they were presented.

 

For these reasons, I highly recommend this gem of a collection!

 

You can get your copy here, (your price of admission, rather than a story):

The Ghost Club: Newly Found Tales of Victorian Terror

 

*Thanks to Crystal Lake Publishing and the author for the e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. This is it!*

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review 2017-12-04 18:45
Alive in Shape and Color, edited by Lawrence Block
Alive in Shape and Color: 16 Paintings by Great Artists and the Stories They Inspired - Lawrence Block

 

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this collection as much as I did last year's: IN SUNLIGHT OR IN SHADOW, which contained stories centered around the art of Edward Hopper. This time around, the authors got to choose whichever artist/painting they liked, upon which to base their stories.

 

If you had to guess which artist upon whom Michael Connolly based his story, it would be easy for anyone familiar with his work to do so. For those of you who are not familiar with Connolly's fictional detective Harry Bosch, his name comes from the painter Hieronymous Bosch, and this story was inspired by Bosch's work "The Garden of Earthly Delights," (the third panel). This was my favorite story within-short, sharp and packing a punch.

 

Jeffrey Deaver also impressed me with his story inspired by prehistoric cave drawings at Lascaux. This clever little revenge tale takes place in the present and perhaps captures the intricacies and competition within the world of archaeology.

 

S.J. Rozan's story was inspired by "The Great Wave" by Hokusai. I was not previously familiar with Rozan or Hokusai, but now I feel compelled to learn more about them both. This tale was another gut puncher, but somehow I finished it feeling satisfied and happy for the protagonist.

 

The Great Wave by Hokusai

 

Lastly, Joe Lansdale's tale was inspired by Norman Rockwell's "First Trip to the Beauty Shop." Even though the painting is perky and cute, the story is definitely not. It was sad, poignant, and scary-all at the same time. I enjoyed the heck out of it. 

 

 

All told, that's 4 stories that impressed me a great deal. That's pretty good for any old anthology, but I expected so much more from this one, based on my experience with IN SUNLIGHT OR IN SHADOW. Perhaps it was a case of being disappointed by my own high expectations, or perhaps it's just that these tales didn't work as well for me as they did for other people. Whatever the case, I'm glad I read this anthology, otherwise I would have been wondering what I had missed.

 

Recommended!

 

Alive in Shape and Color

 

*Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for the e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This is it.*

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review 2017-12-01 20:50
The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons by Goli Taraghi
The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons: Selected Stories - Goli Taraghi,Sara Khalili

I read the first 5 stories of this collection (through page 179). The first one was decent and unexpectedly funny, but after that they became more a chore than a pleasure. The characters and settings are misty and unformed. All the stories are in the first person, sometimes told through the point-of-view of a minor character who nevertheless relates all of the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist like an omniscient narrator even though he or she has no way of knowing this information. The translation is very fluid, but . . . maybe a little too much so; the stories feel as if they were written in English, but blandly. After pushing myself through four stories out of a sense of obligation, I decided to be done.

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review 2017-11-29 21:21
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Anything Is Possible - Elizabeth Strout

This is a lovely collection of interrelated short stories. It begins in Amgash, Illinois, the hometown of Lucy Barton, and when it ventures further afield, it’s to follow characters whose stories are suggested by the previous ones. The protagonists are mostly older people – grandparents or old enough to be – and a common theme is dealing with loss: of livelihood, of a spouse (to death or divorce), of parents or siblings who move away.

It is a melancholy book, and getting a little too caught up in the stories and reading them all in two sittings got to me a little. But it is also a book full of compassion and understanding for its characters (most, though not all, of the protagonists are compassionate and understanding people themselves), of human connection and love, of wisdom about what makes people tick. It is very well-written and got me quickly invested in the characters and their situations. In some cases I wanted to know a lot more; this was especially true of Patty’s story, though Abel’s sticks in my memory as well. Though I thought highly of My Name Is Lucy Barton, the story about the title character’s reappearance underwhelmed me and was probably my least favorite. But I am tempted to re-read that book now that I’ve read this one.

In sum, this is an excellent collection, rather quiet and sad, featuring complex and believable characters. I recommend it.

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