1 out of 4 stars
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Illustrated Short Fiction Of William. H. Coles 2000-2016 contains a selection of 33 shorts, a novella, and a pair of graphic novels. All of the stories present very brief moral quandaries that seem like they're trying to get readers to think about the nature of right and wrong. Aside from the graphic novel, each story contains one illustration. All the illustrations, as well as the art within the graphic novel, are drawn by a gentleman named Peter Healy. He is arguably the more talented between the two principal figures responsible for this collection.
Coles' prose is notable for its complete lack of consistency. Sometimes he's terse and clipped and leaves out crucial information until it's necessary just to get to the next beat in his story. Other times, he leaves in totally irrelevant information that only serves to reinforce how creepy and out of touch the narrator is. He has no command of tone, suspense, or pacing. This collection could also use a good editor. It's riddled with typos, punctuation errors, misused vocabulary, and inconsistent tenses. His prose is so bad that I can actually imagine myself watching him as he writes, gradually getting too tired to actually go through with the whatever idea he originally had and then just ending stories abruptly as if they're procrastinated high school essays.
Many of his moral quandaries are presented in extremely rudimentary fashion. In fact, a lot of them aren't really moral quandaries at all...They're just examples of bad people giving into their most basic instincts. And there's little to differentiate the way they communicate with the way the narrators talk. Whereas many stories of morally shady folks might choose to make their narrator a disconnected, authoritative source of information or a winking beacon of irony, Coles' narrators are all just only slightly less creepy than his characters. All this in mind, I have no idea what demographic this book is targeted towards. Most adults are going to find moral dilemmas to be paper thin and juvenile. Actually, most kids probably would too. And there's a lot of disturbing stuff in here that really isn't kid-appropriate. But the drawings wouldn't be out of place in kid's books...
(The true answer is that the demographic for this book is an open flame.)
All the protagonists act in deeply disturbed ways, by the way. And it's made all the more disturbing by the fact that the narrator never really comments on how disturbing it is. A priest struggles with his celibacy in "Father Ryan," so he ends up groping a flight attendant and makes off with her phone number. A man basically throws a small child to a ravenous bear in order to distract it so he can escape ("The Bear"). In "Lost Papers," a husband essentially leaves his wife to die in the Holocaust because he doesn't want to reveal that he cheated on her years ago. (It only makes slightly more sense once you read the story. Which I don't advise. Run away from this collection. I read all of it and it doesn't get any better.)
If you're looking for a reprieve during the graphic novel? Well, prepare to be disappointed. Illustrator Peter Healy ends up changing his style completely. The inking is unnecessarily heavy, as if he made a stylistic decision just to be different for the sheer sake of being different. His other illustrations are just nice and bland, and that would've been preferred for the graphic novel.
I rate this book 1 out of 4 stars. Sometimes, I'll read books by people who seem very earnest and very sincere or very ambitious but their talent just doesn't match up to those sentiments. This is one of those times. Honestly, if anyone involved in writing this book turned out to be a serial killer or something, I wouldn't be surprised. That's how out of touch this whole thing is. Anyone who thinks this is a 4 star collection is really just grading themselves on the gargantuan level of effort it took them to finish this book. If you finished this all the way through like I did, then, you deserve 4 out of 4 stars. On the plus side, all the stories are really short and you get through them really fast. Some of the stories are really pretentious and uses words that are clearly out of the author's wheelhouse, but even then, it's still a pretty fast read.
Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016
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