3 out of 4 stars
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I am a huge fan of short stories and novellas. I have always wondered how an author can create an entire story in such few words. William H. Coles does not disappoint in this collection of Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles 2000-2016. The stories vary widely, from an unwed teenage mother finding purpose in the unconditional love of her child to an African American man in the south fighting racism and bigotry without violence, to the heartfelt generosity of a stranger in New Orleans. The compilation in this book appeals to lovers of multiple genres, including the graphic novel lover. Just like fables, most of the stories in this book seem to have a moral, or lesson to be learned.
As much as I love short stories, there were a few of the stories in Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles 2000-2016 that stood out above the rest; as well as a few I did not care for. The stories I reveled in most were “The Gift”, “The Cart Boy”, and “Big Gene”. All three are stories of acceptance and overcoming oppression of some sort. “The Gift” describes a young teenage girl who becomes pregnant and her mother, convinced of major scandal, ships her off to a convent in France. When the planned adoption of the child does not come to fruition, the young mother is determined to make her child’s life as full of love and acceptance as possible, with or without family support. The determination and emotional strength of this young mother is inspiring and proves that love and acceptance of a parent can allow a child to thrive and overcome any obstacles that may come their way.
“The Cart Boy” is about a young man with physical disabilities getting a job in a grocery store as a cart boy. Not only does this young man show that being disabled does not mean that you are limited to the things you can accomplish, he shows naysayers that pride in your work does not mean perfection and a smile goes a long way. Aside from “The Gift”, “Big Gene” had to be my favorite story in the entire collection. Seeming to be based on a real person, “Big Gene” is about a very large African American man in the south that plays piano. Gene reaches across racial lines and touches people through his music, allowing him to make some very unlikely friends. During racial tensions, and following Dr. King’s example, Gene chooses to remain non-violent illustrating, with his lack of action, the old saying – You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
The story I disliked most was “Gatemouth Willie Brown on Guitar.” The story itself was good, it was the writing that I had a difficult time with. The author continuously used present tense words when they clearly should have been past tense. The narration was very much like listening to someone from the deep south talk instead of an educated writer telling a story. It is very possible the author intended for the story to read this way; however, it was difficult for me to follow in some places and I found myself correcting sentences before I could finish reading them. The story was, however, very good and it did have a good lesson to learn at the end. First impressions may be lasting but they are not always absolute.
Overall, I give Illustrated Short Stories of William H. Coles 2000-2016 3 out of 4 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed many more stories in this collection than not and I believe that anyone can pick up this book and find at least one or two stories that speak to them. As a small disclaimer for those who are sensitive to racy subjects. There are a couple stories that have very sensitive parts to them. While, there is not graphic description of events taking place, the subject in itself can be emotionally charging. Other than those couple stories, the rest of the stories are poignant, and I imagine many people will be able to relate to them in some capacity.
Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016
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