Thursday, October 01, 2009

An Eclectic Buffet: Review of Finding Creatures & Other Stories

(Follow the links to read the stories.)

An Eclectic Buffet
Jess Mowry, author of Way Past Cool

I like story collections, and speaking as one who writes for kids, it has always puzzled me why many mainstream publishers are reluctant to publish them. Short stories are far less intimidating and generally more enjoyable than novels for “reluctant readers.” I have seldom been disappointed with a story collection, though I may have been disappointed with one or more of the stories in them. Still, as with an eclectic buffet, one can usually find something they like.

Finding Creatures & Other Stories by Casey June Wolf is by no means a young-adult book, though I’m sure that many teens, especially those who like sci-fi and fantasy, will enjoy it; and Ms. Wolf has offered a lavish and varied buffet with well-prepared entrees that should please most everyone, whether or not they hate vegetables or don’t eat meat.

While the stories are as varied as vegan salad and truck stop steak -- indeed, one of the stories,
After Hours At The Black Hole, is about a space-going garbage truck -- it’s clear that Ms. Wolf knows her way around a literary kitchen, and even the most picky eater or fanatical food-faddist may be tempted into sampling things they thought they didn't like.

The collection opens with an offering titled
Claude And The Henry Moores, about a security guard in an art gallery who senses the life trapped within certain pieces of sculpture and ultimately sets those lives free. In a case of “it tastes like chicken,” I was reminded of Thorne Smith’s novel, Night Life Of The Gods, although Mr. Smith tended to use magic and the supernatural merely to present his situations and then get on with the tale, while Ms. Wolf takes us much more deeply into how the magic happens and what the characters feel. There are also subtle echoes of Anne Rice and the process of transforming into a vampre, though by no means sinister.

However, Ms. Wolf is also adept in the horror genre with offerings such as
Dana’s Hand and Aggie’s Game, both of which may generate within the reader a macabre but titillating tingle similar to forbidden or potentially deadly foods -- fugu fish come to mind -- that must be prepared with much skill by only the most experienced of chefs.

The title story,
Finding Creatures, about a girl who finds a ethereal though not imaginary horse who helps her make friends, reminded me of The Celestial Omnibus by E. M. Forster, one of many stories that so-called adults should read from time to time to remind them that children usually see clearly though grownup pretension, self-involvement, indifference and hypocrisy.

As for the other stories, and as one reviewer eloquently put it, they “range throughout space and time... the aliens are actually alien, not just humans-with-twist. The gods are godlike, with all that that historically implies. Humans, wherever they are, are still human with human concerns and flaws.”

While, as I’m sure will be the case with many readers, I liked some of the stories better than others, I devoured every one and none disagreed with me. If I absolutely had to find a flaw in this book it would be the author’s introduction to each story. Having been a voracious reader since a very early age, I quickly learned to avoid prologues or introductions, especially those that tend to either describe a story or, worse, hint at or give away the ending. Nor am I interested in why
an author wrote a story, what inspired it, or the author’s own interpretation of their work, though of course other readers may feel differently. In any event, it’s simple enough to ignore the intros -- as one might ignore a platter of Vienna Sausage appetizers -- and get to the good stuff.

1 comment:

Deirdre said...

Nice review!

Good to see you're doing well, and glad to find you again.