Unexpected Tales from the Ends of the Earth is an anthology of short stories. The ‘ends of the earth’ part of the title is a reference to the diverse countries and cultures of the authors who contributed to the anthology.
The reason I bought Unexpected Tales was because Candy Korman contributed seven stories to the anthology and I was curious to see what Candy’s shorts were like. [No pun intended!]
Those of you who read my reviews will know that I’ve loved, and reviewed, both of Candy’s novella length stories. [My reviews are here and here].
I’m pleased to tell you Candy’s shorts are just as good as her novellas!
Writing in short form requires a great deal of skill. The author has to find a way to compress background, character arc, mood and plot into a very tight space. As with a novel, each short story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Beyond that however, the story has to trigger the reader’s own imagination to fill in the ‘blanks’. The reader has to become a willing, eager participant in the telling because the author does not have the luxury of waffling on. Ok, waffling is not good in any form but you know what I mean!
So, back to the anthology. All seven of Candy’s short stories were a joy. No surprise there because she is a superb writer, imho [in-my-humble-opinion]. Her stories, however, were all surprising. Each one drew me into a different time and place… and then turned my expectations on their heads!
My favourite short story was the one about the residents of a retirement village. As I’m nudging 60 – and a bit scared of getting truly old – I enjoyed the depiction of these older citizens as real people enjoying much the same activities I enjoy right now. Romance, sex, love. Apparently none of those tender emotions atrophy with age. That was good to know. And then Candy started weaving in ‘the twist’. I won’t tell you what it was but I guarantee that readers of any age will appreciate it!
Of the ‘unknown’ authors contributing to the anthology the standout, for me, was Xarina. She wrote quite a long story in a number of parts. Her story, Alliances, was surprising in many ways. It began with a wedding and and it was soon obvious this wedding was eastern in flavour. I guessed Indian and I was later proved correct. [Thank you Monsoon Wedding. If you haven’t seen this delightful Indian movie then I highly recommend it.]
All my other guesses about ‘Alliances’ proved to be wrong but the story was so enjoyable I hardly even noticed. Bright, colourful, exotic, all are words that spring to mind in describing this story. Yet there is a dark thread beneath its gentle, Bollywood-bright facade. And the ending will make you slap your head in disgust at not seeing the ‘clues’. Trust me, they are there. Xarina [the author] has not short-changed her readers in the slightest. Once you know, the signs are obvious. But of course she doesn’t let you ‘know’ until the very end.
In my humble opinion [there’s that caveat again], Candy Korman and Xarina make this anthology well worth the cost of the ebook. For me, though, the rest of the short stories somehow missed the mark. With some, the problem was me; I simply couldn’t relate to the content. With others, the style annoyed me. I enjoy beautiful prose but I really don’t like self-indulgent prose. Enough said.
The short story that disappointed me the most, however, was one that just… stopped. This particular story was interesting enough but it ended so abruptly I was left feeling baffled. And somewhat cheated.
At first I thought I’d paged past the ending. On a Kindle that’s quite easy to do if you press the page forward button too hard. So I paged back and discovered that I hadn’t missed the ending at all. All the main threads were resolved but the underlying thread, the one that gives you a sense for why the story was written in the first place, was missing. To me it felt like a long, involved joke without a punchline. Now I know that not all short stories have to have a ‘twist’ but I do expect them to give me a sense of… closure. This particular story didn’t.
One of the reasons I swore I would only write reviews of books I loved was that I hate being ‘mean’. I can empathize with other authors too well to want to hurt them, especially when my opinions are so very subjective. Millions of people love Twilight. I don’t. Millions of people love romance novels. As a general rule, I don’t. Still more millions love horror stories. Surprise, surprise… I don’t. By contrast, I love science fiction, yet I know that an awful lot of people find sci-fi a yawn. So castigating any author for writing something I don’t like just feels wrong to me.
But what do you do with an anthology? Not writing a review of Unexpected Tales from the Ends of the Earth – because I disliked some of the stories – would have been like throwing the baby out with the bath water. For those young ‘uns who haven’t heard that saying before… just think about it. 🙂
Unexpected Tales from the Ends of the Earth is an anthology with ups and downs, however for me, the ups far outweigh the downs and I can recommend it with a clear conscience, especially as I know you may love the very stories I disliked. That’s what subjective opinions are all about. Read the anthology and then, if you think that I have missed the mark, please tell me so in comments.
Honestly, I’m not just saying that! Life would be very boring without different points of view and, well, I do love a good argument. 😀