Short Take: Sometimes you get your wish, and sometimes, your wish gets you…..
Note: I was gifted an advance copy of Wrapped in Black in exchange for an honest review. So, below are my honest opinions!
I’ve said it before, I’ve never been a fan of the short story. My preference for oversized novels is pretty well-known. Lately, though, I’ve started to re-think my position. Maybe it’s that I’m getting older, and my patience and attention span aren’t what they used to be. Maybe I’m finally starting to see the beauty in a lack of excess, enjoying the idea of something smaller, but just as well-crafted – the lovely, personal tiny house versus the soulless McMansion. Is reading a collection of short stories by very talented but not very well-known authors the same experience is diving into the latest thousand-page Stephen King tome? No, it isn’t. But that’s not to say it’s a lesser experience in any way.
Wrapped in Black opens on the perfect note: “Hair Shirt Drag” by Gordon White. The voice of the narrator (Jesse) is so completely matter-of-fact about himself and his life and the extent to which he is “over it” that you can’t help but want to listen to him all night. I mean, come on: “I ain’t never read the Key of Solomon, but I read the Book of Kings. Rest of the Bible, too, back when Mama thought that’d help me fit in. It didn’t, I won’t, and, truth be told, I ain’t all that broken up about it.” With three sentences, White has created an entire personality. Oh yeah, there’s a story here too, and it’s a good one (seriously), but truth be told, I would read a whole novel of Jesse doing things like grocery shopping and making coffee.
The downside to such a strong opening is that the rest of the stories will almost certainly suffer by comparison. The next story, “Comes the Rain” by Gregory L. Norris is a good piece with some spooky touches that somehow seemed a bit hollow, more of a scene than an actual story. Loved the nightmare Mary Poppins, but it just felt lacking.
“Number One Angel” by Allison M. Dickson is a similar type of work, in that the whole story happens in the space of a few minutes, but it felt more fleshed-out. The author knows how to get into the head of a character though, and with a few well-chosen phrases, she gives us decades of history between Louise and her mother.
“Unto the Earth” by Patrick C. Greene is probably the story that I felt had the biggest shocker-twist-wait…what?? ending in the collection. I’m not going to spoil it here, but trust me, it’s a GOOD one. This story is also the one that screwed with my emotions a surprising amount for such a brief tale.
“Haxenhaus” by Nick Kimbro was also a stand-out. The medieval setting was a great backdrop, and the atmosphere was wonderfully realized.
I adored “Stories I Tell To Girls” by Michael G. Williams, mainly because I loved the idea of the Book people, and am hopeful that one day they’ll open a chapter in my local library, and let me hang out with them. But it’s also terrific at creating a sense of stories within stories, and complicated relationships, and pasts that become futures and… yeah, you’ll just have to read it.
James Glass’s “The Rising Son” is a tough one. I loved the hints at the antagonist’s identity (some will recognize him at once). I don’t want to give too much away here, but it seemed like the author was going to go in a new direction, but instead, went for the expected one. Beautifully written, though, and I will probably pick up his longer works.
“Beautiful, Broken Things” by Rose Blackthorn was also a tough one. It seemed to take place in a futuristic version of a typical US city, but that wasn’t really clear, so some of the references (like the drug Prizm) were awkwardly shoved in. I liked the story, but think it would have worked better without being bogged down by the sci-fi aspects.
“Not This Time” by Mike Lester was probably my least favorite story in this collection. It might just be that too much sugar has rotted my brain, but I couldn’t make sense of the story and relationships between the characters. I had to re-read the ending several times to figure out what happened, and even then, it didn’t really stay with me. I also couldn’t figure out if there was actual witchcraft involved, or just kids playing pretend.
“Into the Light” by Solomon Archer was more meaty than the other stories. It had a bigger scope in terms of time period, characters, and actual physical action. I actually wish someone would make a movie of this one, it’s fun and gory and fast-paced.
Shenoa Carroll-Bradd is just not right. “She Makes My Skin Crawl” is one of the most crazily-inventive stories I’ve read in ages, but damn did it make me queasy. Some serious nightmare-fuel, but at the same time, so ridiculously out-there that you can’t help but love the craziness.
Eric Nash’s “Pigeon” is a funky Rube Goldbergian (is that a word?) piece from the perpective of the Scorned Woman. It’s an archetype as old as stories themselves, but with twists both digital and supernatural. Fun, but the ending was a little flat.
“Pig Roast” by Aaron Gudmunson is the perfect ending to the collection. Chet is the polar opposite of Jesse from “Hair Shirt Drag”. He’s overweight, awkward, shy, and oddly attached to his mustard. I sort of knew where the story was heading, but I wasn’t expecting the last few sentences. YIKES.
Overall, this was a GREAT collection. Every story was so unique that comparing them to each other isn’t comparing apples to oranges, it’s comparing apples to elephants to picture frames to knitting needles to meteorites. And that’s the beauty of it – there’s literally something for EVERYONE. You like in-your-face gore? subtle metaphor? killer birds? Wrapped in Black has got you covered.
The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and one eye of newt. Happy Halloween!)