As always, using my six-pack rating system and completely subjective:
Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler — (4 out of 6 Anchor Steam Beers)
After a recent discussion on the Western Writer’s forum concerning a lack of diversity in Western fiction, this was a refreshing find. The protagonist was an out-of-work Chinese railroad worker in and around Washington state in the late 1800’s. The other characters were a man with mental illness (perhaps Asperger’s or high functioning autism prior to there being such a designation?), an early strong-minded feminist, and the mysterious title character herself: a mostly mute woman who hums and sings nonsense and may perhaps be a … Nah! That would give it away. Besides, it would only be my own interpretation.
The writing was excellent for a debut novel. However, the pacing felt uneven in some places and the ending was a little bit of a disappointment for me personally (I felt there needed to be more closure on this one than there was), but overall a good read. The most pleasant surprise was the humor in this novel. A lot of fun, just don’t expect a clean and defining closure. The ending felt unconsummated.
This quote from the character Chin sums up the nature of this ambiguous novel pretty well: “What we say occupies a very thin surface, like the skin over a body of water. Beneath this, through the water itself, is what we see, sometimes clearly if the water is calm, sometimes vaguely if the water is troubled, and we imagine this vision to be the truth, clear or vague. But beneath this is yet another level. This is the level of what is and this level has nothing to do with what we say or what we see.”
The Tel Aviv Dossier by Lavie Tidhar and Nir Yaniv – (6 out of 6 He’Brew: The Chosen Beer)
One word review: fun!
This novel is insane. It is an often pessimistic mosaic of modern Israeli culture, society, and beliefs. It captures moments of clarity and meaning while examining what happens when our mundane reality butts up against an absurd apocalyptic event.
Told in short bursts from multiple perspectives, the narrative pulls you in and doesn’t let you go. The story lingers long after you breeze through it. It gives us the story of Tel Aviv as it suffers a cataclysmic event. The world goes nuts. Some people cling to their sanity and societal values. Others embrace the madness as mountains rise, and all laws, including the laws of physics, are broken.
Yet, in all this insanity there are still moments of real insight, but the novel never gets bogged down in rationales or meaning. This narrative is as chaotic as the event it describes.
There’s a severed head that rolls around and talks and stuff. This is just that kind of book, and I loved it!
Dark Faith by Maurice Broadus and Jerry Gordon — (4 out of 6 Guiness Extra Stout)
Editors Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon present a big thick anthology of primarily horror stories with a broad definition of “Faith” as the theme. As a whole, the collection is excellent. I received a free PDF copy from the publisher to review and turned around and bought a hard copy for myself because I enjoyed it so much. The good stories in here are good. Really, really good.
However, like most anthologies, this collection was a bit uneven in terms of (perceived) quality of some stories and in terms of how the authors utilized the theme. With a group of writers and styles this diverse, it is hard to imagine a cohesive whole. I found myself wishing that more varieties of faith were represented at times. Also, I really would have liked to see more instances where faith instilled hope for the protagonists and was a source of some good and some hope (yet, with the title being Dark Faith, I completely understand why most of the stories tended to focus on the darker aspects of faithfulness). In some instances, I felt stories did not really belong at all because they did not engage matters of faith enough for my taste, but this is all subjective. Yet, some of these stories were so good, I did not really care that they did not relate to the overarching theme of the anthology.
I was planning on doing a story-by-story review, but decided against it. Instead, I want to focus my time by mentioning some of my favorite stories.
I’ll start off with a couple stories that I really enjoyed but felt were not quite on target when it comes to the theme:
Lucien Soulbane’s “The Choir” comes immediately to mind as an excellent story that I feel did not really quite fit. Lovecraftian horror is a fun and wonderful thing, but nobody I know really takes the Elder Gods quite seriously enough for them to be a good inclusion into an anthology centered around various “faiths.” This story of slimy, nautical, and tentacled terror was one of my favorites in the anthology. It had a wonderful message delivered well and contained a lot of real tension. Yet, I’d be hard-pressed to classify it as a story of faith. Perhaps a study on a dwindling faith in the inherent goodness of humanity? Perhaps. I guess I can go with that.
“Paint Box, Puzzle Box,” by D.T. Friedman is another story that comes to mind as a great story that doesn’t quite fit. It is the story of an artist hiding inside his paintings from a personified death. A wonderful story, really. A great metaphor for artists seeking immortality in their own art. Yet, not so much a story of faith. It did not really examine any particular faith or doctrine. The Grim Reaper is a cartoon character these days, after all, not a god (see: “The Adventures of Grim and Mandy” on Cartoon Network, for example).
Now, I am just going to quickly note some of my favorite stories that went above and beyond by really capturing the theme:
“The Unremembered” by Chesya Burke
“Days of Flaming Motorcycles” by Catherine Valente
“The Last Words of Dutch Schultz Jesus Christ” by Nick Mamatas
“Mother Urban’s Booke of Dayes” by Jay Lake
“Different from Other Nights” by Eliyanna Kaiser
… and most of the other stories. I really enjoyed the inclusion of several wonderful poems that were interspersed throughout the anthology. All of the poets are to be commended.
Perhaps my favorite story in the anthology was Brian Keene’s “I Sing a New Psalm.” Written in verses (like a psalm, obviously), we get a real examination of one man’s faith. It is a very human story which is both tender and terrifying. Known primarily for writing graphic and gruesome horror novels – often involving zombies – Keene shows real sensitivity and restraint in this moving little tale. Out of all the stories in the anthology, I feel this one best represented the theme. This story presents an uncompromising and honest dark examination of faith.
So, overall, a great anthology. Highly recommended.