3 out of 4 stars
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In Illustrated Short Fiction, readers can experience a collection of short stories written by William H. Coles, from 2000 to 2016. It includes a novella about thirty-seven pages long, thirty-three short stories with perfectly balanced settings and two graphic novels as formations of two selected short stories into illustrations.
The aspect I admire greatly in the compilation is its plots for their creativity and individuality. Although it comprises of thirty-four short fictions, each one of them has got a totally different plot and no one has got even a slight resemblance to another. Yet they all portray tangible situations, which are too closer to the reality than being simply fictional. Thus, as I assume, having able to extend his imagination throughout various dimensions is really a talent of the author and this anthology supplies plenty of evidence supporting that fact.
Just to implant an idea about the variety of the plots, I will highlight a few as follows. The introductory story, "The Gift" is about a teenage unmarried mother's struggle to navigate her disabled daughter. Even her own mother is reluctant to accept a deformed child as her granddaughter and making the situation much worse, her behaviour is also discouraging the girl. Yet she tries to stay strong. The second fiction "Speaking of the dead" is mainly on a husband attending to the funeral of his wife, who has left with another man a few days before her death. He is asked to deliver a eulogy at the funeral. As everyone is expecting for an everlasting pleasant memory of her, he is bewildered how to talk about the good nature of someone who has deceived him. "Homunculus" is the third and it portrays the miserable life of a girl at a circus. Another story named "Lost Papers" has been woven around a dreadful situation faced by a young couple at the country border in 1941. It involves Gestapo police as well. The fiction- "Dilemma" is about a father's tragic experience of his own son, being on the threshold of death. Battling to control his anxiousness, the father, who is a doctor himself, tries to give the necessary first-aid treatments to save his son. The novella-"Sister Carrie", is a story packed with suspension. When both parents die, a seventeen-year-old girl, Carrie is left under the care of her elder sister-Jessie. She looks after her with motherly affection. After several years, Carrie starts an affair with an Arab boy, named Zamel and ends up by marrying him. Jessie never blesses the marriage and soon she gets to know that Zamel is suspected by the police for terrorism. She insists on Carrie to divorce him, but seems like she trusts Zamel very much and not inclined to accept Jessie's advice. Likewise, the other twenty-eight plots also go on, dealing with totally different settings.
Further, many plots are highly capable of arousing curiosity. For instance, based on the aforementioned stories, "The Gift" consistently worried me whether the teenage mother's love for the child would also fade away. As I read "Speaking of the dead", I wondered how the author had moulded up the character of the husband at the end. "Lost Papers" kept me eagerly waiting to find out whether the wife could have been able to hide from the Gestapo Police or had been arrested for staying illegally at the country border. While I was reading the "Dilemma", I found myself praying for the father to be successful in his efforts of saving his son's life. In "Sister Carrie" the plot provides enough clues for the readers to believe that Zamel is engaged in some suspicious activities. Yet they are not proven. Therefore a number of questions kept haunting inside me. Is he truly a terrorist? Will there be a terrorist attack launched by him? What will happen to Carrie and will she too be converted as a terrorist? Thus, while reading, I sensed chills running down my spine or found myself on the edge of the seat, for multiple moments.
Also, I like very much the way the characters have been employed in the plots. With the aid of the varied types of backgrounds, situations and timelines, the author accompanies us on a voyage to the doorsteps of the people from different social classes or with different mentalities. Most of the times they are moulded up with exceptional characteristics. The teenage mother in " The Gift", the father in the "Dilemma", the daughter in " The Thirteen Nudes of Ernest Goings", the young son in "The Miracle of Madame Villard", the husband in the "Speaking of the Dead", are some specimens for them. In contrast, some roles such as Father Ryan, the nurse in "Crossing Over", the mother in " The Activist" represent sinister or opportunistic people in the community, as well.
Additionally, I was really impressed by the themes, which are remarkable, controversial and heart touching. Among them 'humanity' is the one emphasised for a great deal in a number of stories. "Suchin's Escape", "Gatemouth Willie Brown on Guitar", "The Cart Boy" and "On the Road to Yazoo City" are good examples of such. Still the "Inside the Matryoshka" gives out a precious lesson on the necessity of being cautious when we are giving a helping hand to unknown and helpless people because some have got evil intentions. In the "Big Gene", a peaceful struggle against the crucial racism is portrayed. "The Necklace" expresses how the lust for the 'worldly possessions' can bring disaster to the lives. In addition to them, more motives such as mothers' unconditional love, hatred, betraying, murdering, suicide attempts, forbidden affairs, sexual harassments as well as sacrificing, yearning for love, family commitment, forgiveness, etc., also lie within the stories. With them, these short fictions reflect the real nature of inner mindsets of humans from their best to worst. However, I must mention that themes are not crystal clear all the time. "The Stonecutter", "The Bear", " Clouds", "Crossing over" and " Father Ryan" are some like that, but I guarantee that reading even such stories are not a waste of time, as still there are precious lessons for the readers to be gained.
Coles's simple and descriptive writing technique is worthy to be applauded, too. He gives a full detailed description of the surrounding almost all the time, creating beautiful mind pictures. Sometimes humour is aroused through several statements. Having tinged this element along with his ability to sustain curiosity throughout the whole plot, the stories do not easily become dull. Besides, the book is well written and professionally edited, as I did not come across with a single grammatical error.
Moreover, I adore very much the idea of including colourful and relevant pictures in the book. The reader is welcomed to every new story by one or two precisely drawn pictures, providing somewhat detailed insight about the upcoming fiction. Also, when considering the graphic novels and even though they have got the same plot of two previous short stories- "Homunculus" and "Reddog", they sum up a sort of variety to the book, wiping out the monotonous of the continuous reading.
Likewise, there are several aspects in the book which I honestly admire. Also, there is not a single fiction that I hate reading, as all are equally interesting. Nevertheless, I personally do not accept much the inclusion of profanity. Sometimes they reach to the explicit level and the graphic novel- "Homunculus" has got nude pictures, too. That is the only point which becomes the barrier in offering this book a perfect rating, as my rating for this is 3 out of 4 stars.
The same aforesaid negative issue plays an unfavourable role when it comes to the recommendation as well, for I do not think this book is appropriate for children under eighteen. But I'm grateful to recommend this book to any mature adult, who enjoys the mastery in short fictions, especially the ones with twisted endings.
Just prior to the conclusion, I would like to make a request from the targeted audience. When you go on reading this compilation, you will figure out that there is hardly any merry event, but almost all the stories are directed towards tragedies or totally woven around heartbroken incidents. To someone, it may seem like a failure of the writer and it would be more pleasing to have a mixture of flavours. But as it is apparent to me, the author has got a reasonable purpose for including fictions only with dark events. As I assume, it is beyond merely entertaining the readers, but mingled with acknowledging them on the people's hardships or giving out a lesson on people's behavioural patterns in different situations. The roles in those stories exist for real in our society too, hence, it would be worthwhile if you stop a few seconds with those characters and get deep inside of them, as it is only then you can realize the burden those characters are undergoing or learn how to live safely in the society, identifying people's intentions.
Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016
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