Short stories

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Reader by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published April 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Reader all about?:

The Reader tells of an ageing author on the publicity circuit promoting his new book and revealing how life has changed for him.

What did I think?:

The penultimate story in this collection was a bit disappointing for me I have to say but I’m not sure if I was missing the whole point of the narrative. Nathan Englander is an obviously talented author and I have enjoyed a few stories in this collection so far, namely the title story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank and Camp Sundown which was also written beautifully. Then we come to The Reader (*sigh*).  Initially, I was quietly hopeful for a brilliant tale, I love reading books about books and it started out quite promising and indeed, very intriguing but didn’t really seem to go anywhere which was a shame as I could see it had potential to be something quite special.

It’s about an author who is going on a book tour around the country to several bookshops where he is giving a reading. He is hugely disappointed to discover that his star seems to have dimmed somewhat since he was last on the circuit as not a single person seems to have turned up to hear him read or get their book signed. All apart from one, that is. His only person that emerges from the shadows of the first bookshop is an elderly gentleman who demands that the Author should read as of course that is what he has come to hear. The Author is touched and proceeds to fulfil his request then carries on to another city, another bookshop. Lo and behold, the same old man follows him to every bookshop and insists that he reads in every one, while he remains a captive audience of one.

That’s pretty much it really. There’s no huge revealing moment where the old man pulls his mask off like an episode of Scooby Doo and is in fact, someone else entirely. Not that I’m saying this story needed this. However, I feel like it did need something – a sort of direction, an ending that would make me appreciate the story as a whole. I ended up finishing it, not hating it exactly but not having any feelings towards it in the slightest, to be perfectly honest. I did like how the old man refers to the author not by name but purely as “Author!” or “Writer!” when he was addressing him, maybe there was something to be found in this? I’m not sure and if there was I didn’t really get it which was a shame as I think a lot more could have been done with this short story.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Birds by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part Two

Published April 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

I’ve read some terrific stories in Part One of my Short Stories Challenge for 2017 so far! However stand out stories have to be The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew and The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears. Here’s to finding some more great short stories and authors in Part Two!

The Reader by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

The Birds by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories

The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe

Gallowberries by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Thorn In My Side by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

The Drowned Village by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Robert Shearman from the collection A Book Of Horrors

The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Fruits by Steve Mosby from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Stations Of The Cross by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Published April 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Fleeing Complexity all about?:

Fleeing Complexity is the shortest story in this collection comprising of one sentence only:

“The fire spread quicker than the little bastard was expecting.”

What did I think?:

I made a promise to myself when I started my Short Stories Challenge all that time ago that I would faithfully review every single story in a collection that I read, no matter what I though of them, even if I find them tough to finish (which has been the case for one in particular that springs to mind!). Then I came across Jon McGregor, who I have been a quiet fan of ever since reading his novel Even The Dogs. The stories in this collection so far have been nothing short of remarkable and vary in length considerably. There are ones that are a page long, others that are more regular length you expect from short stories and then there’s this one. One short little sentence.

When I first glanced through this collection, this one caught my eye, obviously because of its brevity and I have to admit, my heart sank. Not because I was disappointed, no, not at all! It was because I thought, quite frankly: “How the hell am I going to review THAT?” Now it’s come to the time when I have to review it, I’m feeling a lot more optimistic about the process. Jon McGregor has chosen every word he uses extremely carefully. I found this to be the case in all of his other stories but it is especially apparent with Fleeing Complexity.

Read it then read it again. There’s so many questions that could spring to mind and opportunities for the reader to use their own imagination in deciding what is going on. First of all, where has the fire been set? Is it a house? Is it woods? You see what I mean? It could be anywhere! Then, what are the repercussions of this fire going to be? There could be lives lost, property destroyed, consequences or indeed no consequences for the perpetrator, that is, if he/she is ever caught. Then I got to thinking why did this person start the fire? What were the reasons behind it? It could have been revenge, boredom, a teenage prank (assuming it is a teenager?!), a curiosity about fire gone wrong… there are so many options to explore. Next, the unknown narrator refers to our perp as “the little bastard.” Who is the narrator? What is their relationship with the fire-starter? Why do they refer to him/her in those derogatory terms? Finally, I really get the feeling that the spread of the fire was accidental – perhaps not the original starting of the fire but how fast it spread after being lit. Why else would our narrator say that it spread quicker than they were expecting?

So apologies if this post has brought up more questions and speculation than answers and feelings about the short story but it’s just one of those sentences that I think has deliberately been crafted to make you think and wonder about things in that way. Jon McGregor is a fantastic author and can’t do much wrong in my eyes and I love his inventiveness and the beautiful way he has with words and connecting with the reader. I’d love to know if you have any further thoughts about Fleeing Complexity. What do you think it’s all about? Can you think of something I may have missed?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Reader by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

 

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Passenger by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Published April 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Passenger all about?:

The Passenger follows a man who has spent his whole life on an airplane in a strange, dystopian world where a whole civilisation are born, fall in love, reproduce and die all on the plane.

What did I think?:

You know how short story collections are sometimes a bit hit and miss? There’s those stories that you absolutely love and you could wax on for ages about how talented the author is? Then there’s those stories that make you hang your head, shake it a little and wonder if somehow you might be missing something? Well, The Passenger falls somewhere in between for me. I would never compare it to The Jesus Stories, (which I might have disliked a little bit!) but at the same time, there’s better stories in this collection, for example The Ceiling, which was a magnificent piece of writing.

So where do I start? Okay, there are lots of positive things about this story, especially the premise. We are inside the mind of one male passenger on an airplane and he is talking about his mother’s death and how her body was dealt with after she died (by dropping it out of the plane of course!). I was completely confused and it wasn’t until a couple of pages in that I realised that this story was about a strange new world where all the passengers of this particular plane live out their whole lives on that plane. They don’t land, pick up new passengers etc so any new life has to be initiated by passengers currently on the plane getting it on.

Absolutely fascinating premise and there was so much potential for this story to do amazing things….however….it just ended up as a bit of a damp squib for me. Our male protagonist mentions an encounter with the woman in the seat in front of him that leads to a sexual experience and his belief that she is currently carrying his child, even if she has not spoke to him or even deigned to make eye contact since the experience occurred. What irked me about the story was that it didn’t seem to go anywhere. There were bucket-loads of questions that I wanted answered and I left it feeling so unsatisfied and disappointed. For example, how did they end up in this situation? Was there an incident on land that led to flying in a plane being the safest option? Is this incident still going on and they are doomed to fly for all eternity? How on earth do they manage to fly around without refuelling? And what about food/water supplies?

Questions like these may not matter to some people and they might be able to enjoy the wonder and mystery of it all but I really needed a reason to keep reading. I was interested for sure but then cursed myself for being so interested as I never got the answers to what I needed to know! The beauty of Kevin Brockmeier’s writing is undeniable and it was a brilliant idea for a story BUT… am I missing something? I’d love to know if you’ve read this short story and got something out of it that I didn’t. I was slightly tempted to read it again to see if I’d missed a trick somewhere but to be honest, I didn’t want to get cross with it all again! I must urge that the author is a fantastic writer – maybe this story was just too much for me.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY CHALLENGE: Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Published March 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) all about?:

The final story in this collection is set in the future on Planet Lucina and is told from the point of view of one of the beings living there exploring their relationship with love, death and Earthlings.

What did I think?:

The stories in I Am An Executioner have been an absolute delight to read and On The Banks Of Table River was another example of an outstanding piece of fiction that I was thoroughly immersed in and didn’t want to end. His stories might not be for everyone, they’re a bit quirky, downright strange in points and of course, as with every short story collection, some are better than others. If like me however, you like your fiction a bit different and exciting, Rajesh Parameswaran is the way to go. Particularly as this is his debut collection which is so unbelievably strong that I am assured he will be doing amazing things in the future.

I Am An Executioner: Love Stories (to give it the full title) focuses on love and often death in each narrative (hence the executioner part!). Some of the stories in this collection are narrated by animals, others by quite unreliable narrators and even one from a painting but they’re all unique and special in their own way. On The Banks Of Table River is another blinder. It is set in the future on an alien world, Planet Lucina which humans are welcomed to visit, live or mate with the local species, depending on your tastes! Our story is narrated by one of the local species, an insect-like creature with a proboscis, feelers and six legs but increased in size compared to your regular bug.

Our narrator, Thoren has a daughter called Nippima and she is causing him no end of grief, in the typical teenage fashion. She is moody, distant, keeps disappearing without telling him and worse of all has starting exhibiting quite human behaviours like wearing the latest Earth fashions (miniskirts made for six legs) and offering tours of the planet to any humans eager and willing. She becomes quite attached to one particular male human and is devastated when he sees what her father does for a living as like some fascinating science experiment. Her father prepares corpses of the native species that have died and arranges funerals for them, much like a mortician in our world. Things start to go a bit wrong after the meeting between Nippima and the human and her father reminiscences about the time when Nippima was conceived bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “love you to death!”

This strange little bit of science fiction was the perfect way to end an absolutely amazing collection of stories that has to be one of my favourites so far in my Short Stories Challenge. I loved the way the author transported us to a different planet where WE were the alien species and we learned about love and death in a whole new fashion. The story is told so beautifully and with so much passion, you could be forgiven for thinking that the author had been acquainted with one of these insect-like beings beforehand! I also loved the relationship between Thoren and his daughter Nippima which was startlingly similar to parent/child relationships here on Earth. It came so, so close to getting the full five stars from me – ever so close! I just think the ending could have done with slightly more clarification…. I think I know what happened but it turned a bit vague and had so much potential to end with a bang.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

4-5-stars

 

 

 

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Passenger by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Erase Me: Positron, Episode Three – Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

Published March 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Erase Me all about?:

In the latest edge-of-your-seat episode of “Positron,” the Byliner Serial by renowned author Margaret Atwood, the dystopian dark comedy takes its darkest turn yet, pitting husband against wife and the human impulse to love against the animal instinct to survive.

Stan and Charmaine should have known better when they signed up for Consilience, a social experiment in which it’s the lawful who are locked up, while, beyond the gates, criminals wander the wasted streets of America.

The couple understand that to break the rules in so strictly regimented a place is dangerous; but, driven by boredom and lust, they do it anyway and betray each other and the system. As comeuppance, Stan finds himself the sexual plaything of a subversive member of the Consilience security team and in no time is made a pawn in a shadowy scheme to bring Consilience crashing down.

Meanwhile, his wife, Charmaine, is being held indefinitely at Positron Prison for her own sins. How far she’ll go to regain her good name and position is anyone’s guess, especially Stan’s. When he winds up paralyzed and tied to a gurney in the prison wing where Charmaine works, injecting toxic cocktails of drugs into troublesome Consilience citizens, will she save his neck or her own? Will she “erase” him permanently?

In “Erase Me,” it’s every man–and woman–for him or herself. Erotically charged, morally complex, wickedly funny, and hailed as “shockingly believable” by “The Globe and Mail,” Atwood’s “Positron” stories remind us that when a totalitarian state gets its grip on the human heart, marriage can be murder.

What did I think?:

If you’re familiar with my blog and my reading tastes, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood. She’s one of the authors where I am desperate to read all of her back catalogue and certainly intend to do so in the not so distant future. She has a talent for writing kooky, dystopian worlds that feel startlingly familiar combined with controversy and her trademark black humour. I was lucky enough to see Margaret speak when she came to the U.K. to promote her book, Hag-Seed, a re-telling of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and long-listed for this years Baileys Prize For Women’s Fiction. I’m delighted to tell you that she was just as witty and intelligent as I had hoped for and it was fascinating to hear her speak.

But, I digress! Back to Erase Me. This is the third in Margaret Atwood’s Positron series which were released serially but have now been re-vamped in a novel by the author called The Heart Goes Last. I downloaded them as e-books when they were released one by one so I’m happy to continue reading them this way and then, of course, they count towards my Short Stories Challenge! If you haven’t come across this series before, you may want to check it out – the first is I’m Starved For You and the second, Choke Collar but I’ll try and keep this review as spoiler free as possible.

It follows Stan and Charmaine, husband and wife who sign up for a revolutionary new programme that involves two communities – a town Consilience and a prison Positron. By entering the programme they agree to spend some of their time in prison (with a paid job and relative comfort) and alternately in a home in the community, again with a paid job and guaranteed happiness. However, this programme is not all it seems. In Erase Me, we see husband and wife pitted against each other and their marriage and loyalty to Positron tested in the worst possible way. Neither Stan or Charmaine are able to contact each other and are completely unaware what the other is doing, thinks, etc so have to rely on a rogue element/double agent who are fighting to overturn the system and bring back democracy. Of course, they want the couple to be a part of it. But can Stan and Charmaine be brave enough to risk everything and return to a life that they were unhappy about in the first place? Especially as when they signed up for this experiment they were told unequivocally that there was no going back.

Okay, I have to admit when I first started this series of novellas I really didn’t know what to think! It was brash, funny, erotic in places (oo-er!) and I hadn’t the foggiest what was going on. By the end of Choke Collar however, I was fully invested in the story. The eroticism has been toned down, I must say if that’s not really your bag and I’m kind of relieved as the story seems to focus more on the characters and the system that they are involved in, which of course is what interested me and made me pick up the series in the first place! We don’t really see too much of Stan and Charmaine as a couple for one reason or another but I actually enjoy this more as we get to see their lives, thoughts and aspirations as separate individuals. Once again, Margaret Atwood comes up with a cracker of an ending and I am definitely intrigued now to see what is going to happen in the last part of the series – The Heart Goes Last (don’t be confused, it is the same title as the novel that has come out under her name!).

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Published March 13, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb all about?:

A young man comes to see Dr Watson in his surgery with a bloody cloth wrapped around his missing thumb. However, this was no accident. Why exactly would someone want to remove someone else’s thumb? It is for Holmes and Watson to find out.

What did I think?:

This is one of the very few mysterious cases that Dr Watson happens upon himself and brings to his partner, Sherlock Holmes, he of the incredible deducing capabilities and brilliant nose for figuring out clues. It is when Watson has left Baker Street, is married and has opened his own practice. One morning a young man comes to see him missing a thumb that he swears was taken “by murderous intent,” and has quite the story to tell Holmes and Watson as the good doctor rushes him to Baker Street.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, as usual for anyone who hasn’t read it yet but I’ll give you a quick overview. Our missing thumb man is Victor Hatherley, hydraulic engineer who set up his own business but work has been slow of late until a strange, sinister looking man by the name of Colonel Lysander Stark offers him twice what he has made in the past two years simply to look at a piece of machinery that he owns, fix it up and stay the night. For some strange reason, Victor must visit the property at midnight to see the equipment, must stay overnight as there is no way he could return home at that time of night and must keep everything about this job completely top secret before, during and after the work is completed. This is stressed to be of the utmost importance by the peculiar Colonel Stark.

Of course, in complex cases such as these brought to Watson and Holmes things are never what they seem and it turns out this piece of equipment has a use far beyond what Stark has told the engineer it is used for. When Victor discovers what its true purpose is, he becomes in very real danger of losing his life but manages to escape leaving just his thumb behind.

There are not so many breadcrumbs of clues in this adventure as compared to other Holmes and Watson stories I’ve read in this collection but in no way did this affect the excitement of the plot and brilliance of the writing. Colonel Stark made a wonderful villain of the piece and it all got terribly tense and frightening, especially close to the end. It’s also one of those stories where the criminals may not necessarily get their comeuppance which used to irk me slightly at the beginning of this collection but I don’t mind so much anymore as occasionally it’s quite interesting to end the story in this way with the “baddies still on the loose” so as to speak!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Erase Me: Positron, Episode Three – Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)