Ever so often, I like to cleanse my literary palette (so to speak) by reading something vastly different from my habitual reads. This short story anthology fit the bill. It is a compilation of fourteen stories running the gamut of genres- ghost story, mild horror, paranormal, futuristic, fantasy, and a smattering of romance for good measure. The tone of the stories is always slightly eerie making it a delicious late night read when cuddled up under your favorite blanket and thus, cozily safe. Some of the stories have nice feel good endings like The Gathering or The Doctor’s Story, some a bittersweet lesson learned like Star Light Star Bright or the Music Man, some had deservedly bad endings like The Perfect Housewife and others a sad ending like Pen Pal or Times Up. Some remain inexplicable and mysterious even in the end like Snow Spirits or Mirror, Mirror while others the point is transparent from the beginning like The Last Married Couple and Curiosity Killed the FPS Man.
As there are fourteen stories, I have no intention of reviewing each one of them. I did have my favorites among them and a few were those bizarre types that left me scratching my head. There were none that I absolutely didn’t like. I am just so impressed with the creative mind that conjured these tales up.
One of my favorites was The Last Married Couple. It was a futuristic tale of an old couple who are the last to fall in love, get married and desire a family. Everything is now about technology, genetically engineered humans and state run orphanages to bring the kids up properly. A couple of university students come to interview the couple and end up leaving with a new found curiosity for the old-fashioned notions they’ve just heard.
Another favorite was The Perfect Housewife. I loved the humor in this one as three housewives greet the arrival of the newbie thinking they’ll guide her and set her straight about matters only to discover that she’s at the top of her game. They then get resentful and set out to knock her off her pedestal. (Yeah, see? Fun, right?)
Surprisingly, I enjoyed one of the mild horror ones, Times Up since I’m not a fan of horror. A man buys an electronic time-keeping device because he’s one of those types who thinks its fun to organize his day down to the minute. The time-keeper reminds him when the time is up on each activity. He soon turns it into a game by trying to get things done before the time is up and if it calls time then he has to immediately stop what he is doing and move on to the next task. After a while, life variables start to happen like the boss needing him to stay later at work or the need to purchase a missing ingredient for his meal. The device is now using his name and acquiring a personality. It’s become very disturbing for him and creepy.
And for a final one to toss out there, I enjoyed a fantasy romance, The Gathering. A young girl sets out with determination from her village that she will get to the Gathering of mystics and become accepted in their midst. Part of the proving tasks is for each initiate to find where The Gathering is hidden using their own psychic powers and visionary powers. Her journey is fraught with adventure and she meets someone unexpected along the way.
So all in all, it was a delightful collection of stories that all together can be read in one sitting, but can also be pulled out individually to be read a few minutes here and there. As I said, it’s a hodge-podge of genres with a tone that moves from fatalistic to sad to humorous depending on the stories. Those who enjoy short stories and eclectic tastes should definitely give this one a try.