3 out of 4 stars
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This is a compilation of the writer’s short stories, each with an illustration by various artists at the beginning of each story. I like both the realistic watercolor illustrations by David Riley, and the varied artwork by Peter Healy: some dark, some light and reminiscent of children’s books. There is a section towards the end of the book, depicting two of the stories in comics form, by Peter Healy. I find the placement of the comics a little jarring.
I rate the book a 3 out of 4. There are some minor typos throughout the book, for example on page 10, the word “shinning,” but the typos are not widespread.
The variety of stories, characters and settings in the book convinces me that William H. Coles is a diverse storyteller. Priests, black musicians, grocery store workers, housewives, young black boy, characters from all sorts of backgrounds come to life and show their desires and to what extent they would go for them.
My favorite stories are:
Gatemouth Willie Brown on Guitar. Told from Willie’s point of view, it has the authentic sounding voice of a black guitar player in New Orleans. Willie says: “…like she’d never had dope in her possession since Christ be born in Bethlehem.” The writer invokes some beautiful imagery: “make it sound joyful-sorrow like a colored parade band coming back from a funeral.”
Homonculus has good pacing, vivid narration and effective use of literary techniques.
Suchin‘s Escape: good characterization and dialogue. Although the point of view changes (Antoine, Suchin), the story is good despite it.
The Stonecutter captured the longing of the boy Willie, and has a bittersweet ending.
Amtrack Silver Service is chilling and kind of disturbing, but very effective.
The Cart Boy has excellent description of someone with spastic disorder: “like stomping a roach…” (page141).
Big Gene is a story of a black man who peacefully faces the KKK. The Cart Boy and Big Gene are both touching stories that illustrate kindness and make us believe in mankind’s capability for goodness.
Reddog has good dialogue, again another example of an authentic sounding voice.
Crossing Over is a short, effectively creepy, psychological story.
However, sometimes the stories or characters are not as engaging, or are confusing. For example, in the first story, The Gift, the conclusion abruptly focuses on Agnes instead of Catherine. The inconsistent names of Sister Mary Margaret (Maggie, Sister Mary Maggie) is also distracting.
The ending of Sister Carrie to me is not convincing. I do not see how Jessie and Carrie became close, because throughout the story Jessie is always reprimanding Carrie. Jessie hates Zamel, then suddenly, inexplicably loves him.
So, there are times when the resolution of the story isn’t as convincing, or the stories don’t flow well. But overall I would recommend reading this book.
Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016
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