Short take: Andrew Peterson is all heart.
I’ve not tried to review an individual short story before, so this may be a little awkward. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not usually a fan of short fiction, I’m a total written-word glutton, and few things make me happier than a big meaty novel I can sink my teeth into.
However, I’ve been following the author’s personal blogs for years now, and although his usual fiction genres aren’t my thing (sci-fi/fantasy), when he posted a snippet of Making Deals With Devils on his site, he got my attention. He was also kind enough to gift me a copy (see? all heart).
This review is hard to write, because I feel connected to the author, and I can see the story for what it really is, and as such, I feel like I’m kicking a wounded puppy by pointing out the flaws. However, he DID say that he wanted honest reviews, and I respect him enough to give him that.
In the Afterword, the author states that he wrote the story (almost 9000 words) in a single day, in two sittings, and it shows in parts. I got the sense in reading it that a lot of exposition stayed in his head, and some of it would have been helpful to understanding the story. For example, I didn’t know for sure that the narrator was a woman until near the end of the story.
The setting is iffy as well. I’m a West-By-God-Virginia native (I’ve lived here my whole life), and I always greet stories that take place in The Mountain State with equal parts amusement and exasperation. I get that for some reason, people who aren’t from around here see it as some mystical, backwoods, terrifying place, and that’s fine, but what irks me is when authors or screenwriters use “West Virginia – nuff said!” as a substitute for building atmosphere. We aren’t all inbred, uneducated, toothless, scary, superstitious hillbillies, ok? GOD.
Sorry, I got a little off-topic there. It’s a pet peeve of mine, but some people may appreciate the mountain setting more. One other thing I will point out before leaving West Virginia chat behind is that the narrator’s “hillbilly voice” was inconsistent.
Despite these things, there’s a lot to love about Making Deals With Devils, and I think that is probably at the root of my frustration – I wanted MORE. I wanted to know more about Abby and Rusty’s childhood, I wanted more of the local history and the generations of children who were affected, and most of all, I wanted more of Nana Zebula – everyone should have a loving, eccentric relative, whose uniqueness is a magic all its own.
The demon was one of the more interesting entities I’ve come across, and I read a lot of horror. Its powers reminded me of sleep paralysis, which is terrifying.
I guess what I’m getting at is that Andrew Peterson wrote this in a burst of emotion, and it shows in both the strengths and weaknesses. Despite the flaws, Making Deals With Devils evokes a lot of genuine emotions, and isn’t that what the best writing does?
The Nerd’s Rating: Three Happy Neurons, and one big hug.