Short Stories Challenge

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Published February 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Butcher Of Meena Creek all about?:

The Butcher Of Meena Creek follows the story of Maggie who is cooking some food at a town gathering and preparing to leave her abusive husband.

What did I think?: 

I’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve read in Manslaughter And Other Tears so far but The Butcher Of Meena Creek has to be my favourite by a mile. It really reminded me of a Roald Dahl short story in the way it was written and the little sting in the tail (or should that be tale?) by the exciting final lines. I can certainly see why it won a award, I finished it absolutely enthralled and immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

I don’t really want to talk too much about the plot for fear of spoilers. In fact, it’s best to go into this story knowing as little as possible but I’ll tell you the bare bones of the story. The story is told from the perspective of our main character, Maggie who is making some lasagne for a town gathering. The people in the town, including a hideous woman called Loretta treat Maggie with scorn and derision and like to make fun of the fact that she is in an abusive relationship. We soon learn that the last time Maggie made lasagne, her husband went crazy and she took the brunt of his anger, physically speaking. Larry is due to arrive at the gathering any minute and the townspeople are almost hugging themselves in glee so that they can all witness the fallout they are certain is going to occur.

Immediately, I felt sorry for Maggie who bears the evidence of physical abuse by her husband, clear for everyone to see. Despite the cruelty of the people in the town, she holds her head up high and continues to make the lasagne for everyone to enjoy. She is aware that her husband doesn’t look on lasagne as “real” food but she has a plan for getting away from him for good and I admired her determination to separate herself from him. Oh my goodness though, I was not expecting the turn that the story ended up taking and I was delighted (and shocked) with the end result. If you read one short story this year, please make it this one and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Wishing Tree by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published February 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Raft all about?:

The Raft is about four college students who decide to celebrate the end of summer by swimming out to a raft on a remote lake. Unfortunately they come across a monstrous entity that puts an end to summer in a way they never could have expected.

What did I think?:

So, it’s Stephen King. If you haven’t been here before, I’m a bit of a fan. However, I like to think that I am perfectly honest when I think he hasn’t written a brilliant story – case in point, The Wedding Gig, also from this collection which I gave a shocking two stars. Luckily, Stephen King was back on top form with this latest story from Skeleton Crew, The Raft, which has to be one of my all time favourites of short fiction that he has written. It has everything you could ever want from a horror story and this is definitely where he gets his (often not accurate) reputation as a horror writer as this story is truly horrific. Not for the weak of stomach, I wouldn’t recommend this story for anyone who gets queasy at the thought of elaborate death scenes.

We have four college students – Randy, Deke, Rachel and LaVerne who are all drinking and having a good time at the end of summer. After a bit too much booze, they decide it would be a great idea to drive to a remote lake nearby and swim out to a raft placed in the middle of the lake. The boys are both having a relationship with the girls and a lot of it is posturing and ego but in the end, all four decide it would be a good idea even if Randy (whose perspective we hear from the most) is starting to regret the decision. Well, wise old Randy was right to be tentative because as the teenagers strip down to their underwear and one by one swim out to the raft, he notices a strange dark puddle in the water. It’s almost like an oil slick with a rainbow of colours amidst the darkness.

This is no ordinary oil slick however. It appears to malevolently come after the girls as they are swimming towards the raft. Of course, Randy’s fears are laughed at by the rest of the group but not for long as Rachel, transfixed by the colours in the darkness is compelled to topple into the water and is immediately gobbled up, albeit very slowly, limb by limb by the “oil slick.” This is now very dangerous territory for the group. They cannot swim to the shore as the oil slick is too fast and would engulf them. They cannot call for help as they are in a very remote area with little likelihood of someone coming by. They cannot even look at the oil slick for too long as the colours seem to have a hypnotic effect, inducing them to fall into the water and face certain death. This story is not likely to end well!

The Raft is Stephen King at his absolute greatest. As always with his writing, it’s not just a horrific event occurring. He really delves into the relationships between the members of the group – the bro-mance between Randy and Deke and the suggestion that ladies man Deke is also making a play for Randy’s own girlfriend which puts their friendship on very shaky grounds. As if they didn’t have enough to deal with coping with a carnivorous oil slick!! I did mention before though that the death scenes are incredibly graphic and I must emphasise that again. Anybody who doesn’t like too much blood and gore is definitely not going to get on well with this story. Strong stomach required! The only part that didn’t sit well with me is near the end of the story where Randy and LaVerne, overwhelmed with emotion, have sex with each other on the raft while the oil slick lurks nearby, awaiting its opportunity to strike. It didn’t strike me as realistic or necessary at all and made me roll my eyes slightly – for shame, Stephen King! It is my only gripe with the story mind you, but because of that, I sadly can’t give it the full five star treatment (otherwise it certainly would be) 🙂

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Short Stories Challenge 2016 – A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published January 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s A Convalescent Ego all about?:

A Convalescent Ego is about a man who has been quite ill, was hospitalised and is recovering from surgery at home. This story explores his mindset as he has a little accident in the house and pictures multiple scenarios of how his wife will react when she gets home.

What did I think?:

As I mentioned with previous posts regarding this collection, the stories within it are beautifully grouped into separate sections. This story falls into the category of Stories To Read When It’s All Going Wrong and was a wonderful surprise to me as I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The author, Richard Yates is famous for his critically acclaimed novel Revolutionary Road (which is languishing on my shelves at the moment but I do intend to get to it someday!). Unfortunately he passed away in 1992 but if this story is any testament to the way he usually writes I’m determined to get to more of his work sooner rather than later.

The story focuses on a couple, Bill and Jean although we mainly hear from the perspective of Bill. He has been ill recently and is recovering from surgery. He is not expected to recover for at least another month and we get the feeling that both himself and his wife are becoming slightly frustrated with his lack of activity, especially as they have a young child to look after, although Jean is fully aware it is through no fault of his own. Jean takes their son out for a short time and whilst she is away she asks Bill if he would mind rinsing out some teacups for her that she is quite fond of. Poor Bill cannot even do this right, he ends up breaking one of the precious cups while washing it. Easy done, you might say but Bill feels terribly guilty about it all and begins to procrastinate through several scenarios in his head about how his wife will react when she discovers what she has done.

The wonderful thing about this story is how detailed Bill’s possible scenarios become, with full conversations between the two, facial expressions, different endings etc, all which involve him going back to work early, replacing her cup and returning with champagne as a surprise for her which he feels might soften the blow but all scenarios he thinks off, end badly for him. He even goes as far as to start to get ready to go to work, suited and booted, puffing and panting – obviously not ready in the slightest to return to work at all! Throughout this, as images of the many different ways their conversation could go run through his head, I got a incredibly warm feeling towards Bill as a character. I found myself feeling so sorry for him, so admiring of his tenacity in trying to make things better after an incident that was clearly an accident that could have happened to anyone.

Bill builds it up in his mind so much as to be something huge when it was really so trivial and a little ridiculous but his love and respect for Jean is clear. Then….the ending. The way it went in the end when Jean finally did get home was absolutely perfect and gave me a little fuzzy feeling of happiness. It made me realise how connected I had become to the characters and their situation, the sign of a masterful author for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part One

Published January 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

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Its a new year and time for some more short stories. I usually do short stories in three month blocks however I’ve been struggling to keep up with this so instead of calling this post January to March I shall call it Part One and see how I get on! This is what I’ll be reading in the first half of 2017:

The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

The Wishing Tree by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Faithful Lovers by Margaret Drabble from the collection The Story: Love Loss & The Lives Of Women

Double Room by Ramsey Campbell from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page

The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

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

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

The Passenger by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

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

Short Stories Challenge – What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published January 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s What We Save all about?:

The penultimate story in Julie Orringer’s marvellous short story collection focuses on two sisters who visit Disneyland in Florida with their mother who is suffering from cancer.

What did I think?:

I’ve really fallen in love with some of the characters and the stories in this collection. Hard-hitting, poignant, heart-breaking and often about difficult subjects, a lot of the stories are not exactly what I would call cheery reading but they definitely touch something inside of you as you read them. What We Save is another classic example of a family in turmoil, trying to make each day count as they spend a day out in the land of make believe, Disneyland, Orlando.

We are instantly placed into the perspective of a young girl of 14, Helena who also has a younger sister, Margot. They are on their way to Disneyland to meet up with their mother’s old high school sweetheart and his family to spend a magical day. All Helena can worry about is her mother, Nancy though and how she is feeling. We guess pretty early on that Nancy is seriously unwell, probably cancer when she is described as wearing a wig but it is confirmed fairly swiftly. We also get a sense of how strongly the mother feels about her old flame, Brian and how important today is for her, especially as she seems to have something she wants to hand over, something she has saved for many years.

This idea of her mother handing over something so treasured to her devastates Helena as she worries that this may be a sign that her mother is finally giving up and letting cancer win. However, this is not her only worry of the day. During one of the rides (Space Mountain for Disney fans), something happens to Helena that robs her of all her childhood innocence and suggests that she may finally have entered the scary, sometimes tragic world of being an adult.

This story was so touching and you can probably guess, quite hard to read at times. I’m lucky enough not to have had any of my close family succumb to cancer at this time but there’s been a scare both with myself and another person. I remember how terrifying even the thought of the deadly “C” felt so I can’t imagine how people who have actually lost their loved ones would feel reading this. However, I did also like that it was not just about cancer, it was about Helena and what she goes through at Disneyland. In a way, she loses something forever that can’t be returned and I believe this connects with fearing the potential loss of her mother which makes the experience all the more scary. I’m a bit sad that there is only one more story to go in this brilliant awe-inspiring collection, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and, for a debut collection, it’s truly an amazing piece of work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Short Stories Challenge – Hogmanay Homicide by Edward Marston from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Published December 19, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s Hogmanay Homicide all about?:

Set in the early 1900’s, Hogmanay Homicide tells the story of friends at a New Year’s Eve house party where one of them is brutally murdered. The question is, which one of the friends did the deed?

What did I think?:

I’m loving my short stories challenge as it continues especially with collections like these where I find so many new to me authors that I’ve never heard of before. Edward Marston is a pseudonym for the British author Keith Miles who has written a number of different novels in a variety of genres from historical fiction and mystery to children’s books. This collection so far has featured a number of contemporary crime narratives so I found it quite refreshing to read something based much earlier in time that had a very classic, Edwardian feel to it.

Our main character in Hogmanay Homicide is Hawley Crippen, married to Cora for a number of years yet exhibiting quite a strained relationship with his wife who is prominent in the theatre world, singing opera for a living. They decide to host a New Year’s Eve party, something he is dreading as he thinks very little of some of the invited guests. They consist of Cora’s good friend Mabel, a magician and his assistant, a brash Scotsman called Angus and a Frenchman called Landru, whom Huxley is particularly suspicious of.

So, we’ve all been at one of those parties where too much of the old drink is taken and the inebriated individual becomes loud, opinionated and incredibly irritating. This is what happens at this particular party with one guest which leads to horrific consequences when the drunkard ends up at the bottom of the cellar stairs, head smashed in with a large piece of coal. Not the best start to a New Year you might say! Hawley is determined that no-one will leave the house until he figures out who the villain is and what reason they had to murder the guest.

As I mentioned earlier, I did enjoy that this story was set in the 1900’s in comparison to more contemporary crime I’ve read recently. For a while at least, I did also enjoy the writing style although I never particularly warmed to any of the characters. The magician was bland, his female assistant more so, Angus was just a caricature of a typical Scotsman – which I have to admit annoyed me slightly and I didn’t feel either Hawley or his wife Cora had any real redeeming features at all which would make me interested in them. The only slightly intriguing character for me was the Frenchman, Landru and that was mainly because of the air of mystery that surrounded him and the reasons why he was in the country. There were parts I really enjoyed about this little story despite my misgivings however and I wouldn’t mind trying something else by this author.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

 

 

Short Stories Challenge – The Haunter Of The Dark by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft

Published November 20, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Haunter Of The Dark all about?:

The Haunter Of The Dark follows a male protagonist as he becomes obsessed with an old church which he can see from his own lodgings not far away. Of course, in typical Lovecraftian style, there is something evil within the church that leads our main character to a bit of a sticky ending.

What did I think?:

I think it’s fair to say that the Lovecraft stories I have read in this collection have been a bit hit and miss for me. Sometimes I can see the excellence in the writing, sometimes the stories are a bit eerie and give me a few shivers, then… there are other times that I find myself irritated by the over-flowery vocabulary and too many similarities between the stories. With The Haunter Of The Dark, I’m afraid I found myself of the latter opinion and didn’t really enjoy this tale too much.

The Haunter Of The Dark is famous for being the last-written of the author’s known works and is part of the Cthulhu Mythos (which I guess explains the similarities between other stories?). This is a shared fictional universe of Lovecraft’s where other authors have contributed work that can stand alone but may also fit into the development of the plot, characters or general world. I am in no way, shape or form an expert on this world from the few stories I have read that describe the creature Cthulhu or its genesis/development and must confess to feeling slightly confused over the whole thing – if any Lovecraft experts would like to explain, I’d be very grateful for some explanations!

As with many of Lovecraft’s stories, we focus on a male protagonist – Robert Blake, a writer and painter with an interest in the occult. He becomes intrigued and then rather consumed by an ancient church that he can see from his rooms in Providence, Rhode Island. Determined to investigate the old building, despite warnings from the superstitious locals he ends up releasing a primeval being and discovering the sinister history of the church, connected to a cult known as the Church Of Starry Wisdom. The being is kept constrained within the building by the lights of the town and can only work its mischief when there is complete darkness. So, of course the town undergoes a power cut during a thunderstorm, releasing the demon with severe consequences for our male lead.

Okay, so positive things about this story. The thought of an ancient (and evil) being that can only carry out its dastardly deeds under the cover of darkness is very creepy I grant you. It plays on on your old childhood fears of the dark, what might be under your bed or that panicky moment when the lights go out if you’re not expecting it. Apart from this, I have to admit I struggled with The Haunter Of The Dark. The story seemed so formulaic, there was nothing special or different about Robert as a character and, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I didn’t have to write this review. We know it doesn’t end well when the beginning of the story opens with our main character’s death (which was probably the most exciting few sentences of the entire narrative). Hugely disappointing, I’m very much hoping that the next H.P. Lovecraft story I read will be a pleasant surprise!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Hogmanay Homicide by Edward Marston from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7