1 out of 4 stars
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After long and careful consideration, I rated this book 1 out of 4 stars.
Let me preface this review by saying: The individual stories in this book are not necessarily bad. In fact, I rather liked The Indelible Myth, The Stonecutter, and The Necklace enough that I marked down the titles for short stories to revisit later this summer.
First, the good: Cole's short stories are imaginative, logically approached, and for the most part, well thought through. He utilizes emotion like some writers play with atmosphere-- and here, the two are inseparable. How a character feels colors their perception of the world around them, much in the way that a person with depression sometimes describes the world as seeming dim and drab on the worst days. Cole maintains a strong attachment to the world of realism, even when some elements of his stories (midgets, circuses, possession, and missing people who then reappear would, in another author's hands, be clearly rooted in the world of myth. When he writes about the real, it is very, very real. He handles specificity and detail deftly, in ways that I'm sure many a writing teacher would applaud. His details are tangible. As a result, I found it difficult to decide what tone Cole was going for-- magical realism, harsh realism, or simply a poetic telling of real-world tales. And this brings me to my main issue with Cole's work.
These stories do not, in my opinion, seem connected. The book contains the illustrated short fiction of one author, yes, but there seems to be little to no rationale for why these stories were selected, why they were placed in this order, or what connects them thematically. I think perhaps that is why I struggled with reading this-- I was looking for grander meaning, and the poetry of Cole's language convinced me that this author must be so erudite as to have included it. However, at the end of the day, I may be forced to admit that these stories are simply disconnected stories, connected by little save the fact that they share an author as well as a certain musicality to the words that still captivates me.
The second point that I must raise is a bit nitpicky, but worth mentioning nonetheless. The title claims that this book contains the Illustrated short fiction of William H. Cole. It saddens me to realize that this claim is somewhat misleading. There are illustrations, yes, but for every three-to-four page story (I read this in pdf format, so these pages are roughly 8.5x11, stuffed with text in every available space), there was one small illustration, with some connection to the story but no particular style. I am an art student. I have studied art and illustration for several years. I can speak with some authority to the fact that these images, while stylistically consistent, add little to the stories, and contributed significantly to my overall feeling of disappointment on finishing this collection.
In the end, I think that my issues with this book mostly stem from the fact that I liked the first story a great deal, and I found myself hanging on Cole's every word, thanks to the mellifluous nature of his writing. But the idea of an illustrated collection of short fiction, combined with the unmistakable allure of beautiful prose, may have set too high a bar for me, and Cole could not help but fall short.
Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016
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