3 out of 4 stars
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The Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016 offers readers a wonderful mix of 33 short stories, one novella and two graphic novels. In this anthology, Coles tackles a wide range of topics—from crushes and courtship that will either make you smile or frown, to complicated family issues that will tug at your heartstrings, and to grander subjects that address the darker side of the society.
If you’re looking for an anthology filled with fluff and happy endings, or something that will keep you giggling out of the blue, this is definitely not the right book for you. However, if you wish to find yourself contemplating about various aspects of life as you go to bed, then this may be right up to your alley. Majority of the stories do not have an entirely happy ending. Nonetheless, I would agree that if these events do happen in real life, there really won’t be any fairy tale endings.
Since there are too many stories—each of which has its own merit—it is impossible for me to discuss them all. But if I had to pick one particular favorite, I would go for Speaking of the Dead, perhaps because I can personally relate to the story. It is not easy to forget the pain a person has caused you. Even if that person dies, the pain doesn’t die with him. For me, John’s struggle to create a ‘good’ eulogy—a eulogy filled with praise—for his ex-wife who cheated on him is very real. I also like the fact that although there is a palpable romance brewing between him and the other lead character, Henri, nothing is explicitly said. I think the way the author portrays their relationship, even the way it ends, fits the tone already set at the beginning of the story.
The book opens with The Gift and ends with the only novella in the anthology, Sister Carrie. Both stories present family issues, but there is a striking contrast on how the stories depict a mother figure. In The Gift, Agnes sends away her pregnant teenage daughter, Patricia. Agnes fears the humiliation their family will face if others find out about the pregnancy. Due to the same reason, as much as she loves her grandchild, Agnes wishes to hide her grandchild’s physical disability.
On the other hand, Jessie from Sister Carrie truly loves her younger sister, Carrie. After their parents’ death, Jessie has taken over the role of a mother to Carrie. Jessie’s personal prejudices lead her to dislike Carrie’s Persian husband, Zamel. For me, Jessie’s over protectiveness of her sister is very reasonable. Further events in the story also justify why Jessie shouldn’t want Zamel for Carrie. Unlike Agnes who cares too much about her image and public opinion, Jessie puts Carrie’s welfare first.
I do admit, however, that I am not quite fond of the grander scheme presented in Sister Carrie. I guess because it does support one of Jessie's early prejudices, which is also the prejudice of many people in real life. I wish the author showed that these prejudices aren't true. I can’t spoil you regarding that scheme, but if you wish, you can go check it out for yourself.
If you are into these grander schemes that touch on societal issues, the book also contains stories discussing child prostitution, human trafficking and killers for hire.
What I applaud the most in this book is that the characters represent different walks of life. There are circus performers, regular students, a doctor, a man of the church and many others. Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016 portrays different characters whose situations and corresponding actions effectively evoke emotions from readers—whether something positive as empathy or plain annoyance.
Grammar-wise, there are some typos and punctuation errors. Some sentences also tend to be too long, and the author doesn’t seem too keen on using commas.
In addition, as it is with reading many works from the same author, you also start seeing a pattern. I noticed many stories show failed marriages and cheating partners. After having read the first few stories as well, and realizing that the author is not quite fond of happy endings, certain twists in some stories no longer surprised me. For instance, I already partly guessed the open ending in The Bear and the ending of The Wreck of Amtrak’s Silver Service.
I must admit I also didn’t appreciate the two graphic novels which are retellings of Homunculus and Reddog. Although I liked majority of the illustrations placed at the beginning of every story, I didn’t like the illustrations in these graphic novels. The artworks looked confusing, and the characters do not look the way I imagined them while reading the short stories.
With all things considered, I am giving this book 3 out of 4 stars. I enjoyed most of the stories, but this still needs a bit of editing. The graphic novels also disappointed me. Still, I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read engaging fictional stories that contain doses of reality. However, please be reminded that there are some mature scenes, although nothing too graphic.
Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016
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