A great premise doesn’t always result in a well told story; a well told story doesn’t always originate from a great sounding premise.
This is the careful balance a short story writer must tread when deciding which stories make the cut for a collection.
On the one hand, you want to choose a selection of stories that take their own angle on a particular theme. Or, on the contrary, give your readers a variety of different themes to explore.
On the other hand, while some stories may sound exciting, they may not be able to reach as high a quality as other, less interesting sounding stories. Consistency in a collection is key to keeping the reader engaged and entertained.
With all that in mind, how does J. Robert Lennon’s collection, See you in Paradise, fare?
Honestly, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
A portal to another universe can be discovered in someone’s backyard.
Adoption is a fight, a battle of large houses and passive aggression.
Zombies are artificially create and return from the dead to steal your girlfriend.
This collection of diverse, intriguing tales from American Suburbia create surprising opportunities for those days (weeks, months, years) when things just don’t go as planned.
For me, the best short stories are like open windows. You admire its view as you look at it, at the lives it portrays. Then, when you look away from it, you can feel it on your skin. As you leave the house, you think back to it, now and again. When you’re going about your day, you picture its view, analysing all of the angles you may have missed within its limited space. You can’t stop churning it over in your mind.
See you in Paradise has four stories like this: Farewell Bounder, Portal, The Wraith and Weber’s head.
The multiple perspectives of Farewell Bounder help to give what would otherwise be a typical dysfunctional family story a breath of life.
Portal is a magical and and humorous exploration of a family growing up together. (And, honestly, as the first story in the collection, works as a magnificent hook to draw a reader.)
The Wraith is a tragedy, one which struck a personal chord with me. It’s original and inventive way to represent the struggle of mental illness – not only from the sufferer’s perspective, but from the perspective of a loved one – is fantastic. I dare not give it away, it’s that good.
And Weber’s Head? I just found it funny. Dark, twisted and a little deranged – but funny all the same.
Other than these, however, the rest of the stories didn’t leave much of an impression. Without opening the book and skimming the first pages – and getting the jolt of Oh-Yeah-This-Story! – I don’t really remember what most of the stories were about, or what hooked me through them from start to finish. They didn’t really leave a lasting impression.
That being said, none of them were bad enough to leave a negative impression. There’s nothing worse than a short story you slog your way through, then cringe at every time you skim past it in the contents page. I enjoyed the stories whilst reading.
Will I recommend the collection to a friend? Probably not.
But will I be angry if my friend started reading it anyway? Again, probably not.
And is it better to leave little impression with a collection than a negative one?
Ah. Now that’s a question I can’t answer.
What do you think? Would you prefer a short lived impression? Or a long lasting, negative impression? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me @ERHOLLANDS. I’d love to hear your view.