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Randolph’s One Bedroom: Andrew Oberg

August 24, 2011 5 comments

When winter stretches on for half the year and people are forced to spend entirely too much time indoors, strange things are bound to happen. Randolph’s city of Sornsville, and the local coffee shop he works at, are no exceptions. But through all the irate customers and cryogenically preserved mammals, the drinks that magically disappear just when their order has come up, and the simian clerks that know far too much for their own good, Randolph somehow manages to keep an even keel. Here are twenty linked stories, or twenty episodes if you will, about Randolph and the small, frozen, and thoroughly odd part of the world he inhabits.

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A good short story is more than a vignette: something or someone has to change in the course of it; its characters need to learn things, or change their minds, and move on in some way, otherwise the piece of writing—no matter how beautifully phrased it is—will be little more than a series of disjointed actions, observed by a disinterested reader.

Randolph’s One Bedroom is that disjointed thing. Each episode that I read was a reasonable account of a string of events, but that doesn’t make a story: there was no character development, and no sense of growth and no conclusions: just accounts of small snippets of time, with some slightly odd behaviour included for no real reason that I could see.

There was also too much exposition; far too much detail, much of which I found dull; and quite a few points where the writer contradicted himself, made illogical statements, or used a word which jarred and so stopped the flow of the text.

I like short story collections and I like writing which is quirky and slightly off-kilter: I’d hoped that this collection would deliver me some of that quirk. Instead, this is a lacklustre collection of pieces which are, I suspect, intended to intrigue and delight but which only served to bore me by the time I’d finished reading.

I hope the writer considers plot and pacing more carefully in his future work; and that he learns to edit his work far more stringently than he has edited this collection.

I read twenty-two out of its one hundred and forty-three pages and those twenty-two pages were heavy going. I hope that this author will do better as he becomes a more experienced writer.

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The Principle Of Ultimate Indivisibility: Brent Robison

April 28, 2011 16 comments

Fiction/LiteraryTHE PRINCIPLE OF ULTIMATE INDIVISIBILITY is a collection of thirteen linked stories, in which people as recognizable as your neighbors stumble through tiny everyday epiphanies, on their way from confusion and loss toward redemption.

Brent Robison’s fiction has appeared in various literary journals and has won awards that paid actual cash… long since spent. He lives among the same mountains where Rip Van Winkle awoke from his long sleep.

Subtlety ought to be on an endangered literary species list, but Brent Robison brilliantly makes the case for its essentiality in this exquisite collection of webbed stories. These stories argue that everything is a facet of the same jewel and we touch each other’s lives in unfathomable ways. To read them is to heighten one’s bond with strangers.

—Djelloul Marbrook, Far From Algiers (2007 Wick Poetry Prize)

Rich, layered images take us deep inside the lives of Robison’s characters, their stories weaving together a tapestry as textured as it is beautiful. Brent Robison’s stories are reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio — stories of ordinary people caught in the crosshairs of circumstance, sometimes of their own making, sometimes not. All of them heroic in their honest struggle to find meaning and ultimately love…. A gorgeous timeless collection about longing.

—Susan Richards, Chosen by a Horse (NY Times bestseller)


The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility is a collection of linked short stories, and each one of them is a delight: a sparsely-written, surprising delight which illuminates unexpected corners of its characters’ lives and in so doing, reveals their obsessions, loves and longings with ruthless clarity.

Robison is a skilled writer with a remarkable gift for tone and nuance. The only thing I didn’t like about this book is its title, which seems far too pompous for this lovely collection. But that single wrong note is a minor one, and I will forgive Mr. Robison for it. Just so long as he continues to write and publish, so that I can read more of his work.

Highly recommended.

The Snow Cow: Martin Kochanski

April 1, 2010 Comments off

Ghost Stories for Skiers

That chill running down your spine—is it just the melting snow?

The thirteen stories in The Snow Cow tell of love and death, terror and joy, mixing ancient myths with modern legends. They are stories to be shared in the firelight after a long day’s skiing.

The skier who leaves tracks on inaccessible mountain faces—is he dead or alive?

Your chalet girl—could she be a mass murderer?

A woman on her wedding night, a promise made to the devil—how can she escape?

Experience impossible love inNot This Time. Ski with a ghost in The Long Man. Discover a new twist to an old legend in The Passport of Dorian Gray. And be haunted by the terrifying tale of The Snow Cow herself!

After you have read this book, skiing will never be the same again.

Short story collections are notoriously difficult to sell: if you manage to find a publisher willing to take them on, that publisher is going to struggle to find readers to buy your book (unless you are already a major name). If you then announce that your short story collection is intended for a specific niche market you’re narrowing your market even further. Which is why, if I were Martin Kochanski, I’d remove the tag-line “Ghost Stories for Skiers” from the cover of The Snow Cow: Ghost Stories for Skiers. I don’t think it adds much value, and I’m concerned that it will lose him sales despite his fabulous cover, which I thought delightful.

As for his stories: they’re not in the same class as the blisteringly good collections I’ve read from Salt Publishing, but then Martin doesn’t pretend to write literary fiction: these are more mainstream, and somewhat laddish. They are mostly competent, clear and amusing and consequently, I mostly enjoyed them.

I did find several of the stories just a little unsatisfying. They were at times trite, obvious, or too neatly tied up: a couple of the stories seemed to run out of steam and ended more from apathy than anything else. I don’t think that’s due to a lack of ability on Kochanski’s part: I suspect it has more to do with his experience (or lack of it) as a writer. The Snow Cow is his first publication, and he’s probably too new to the form to have fully got to grips with its conventions and requirements. With a good few thousand words more to his credit he’s going to be a much better writer (I’d advise him to read widely in the form, to): as it is, The Snow Cow is an entertaining but not a challenging or life-changing read, and I expect Martin Kochanski will improve greatly in the future. I read it all and do think that he’s off to a good start: but despite that I feel that this collection lacks that significant quality which transforms our writing from pedestrian to compelling. Give him time.

As They Grow Older: S M Cashmore

November 19, 2009 7 comments

Witch Street is paved with stories for children. Strange stories. Spooky stories. Halloween stories.

This collection, AS THEY GROW OLDER, has a life of its own. Starting with The Toyman and The Grumpy Browns to fascinate the very young, the stories themselves grow older, stranger and spookier, until the almost adult Last and Longest Story at the very end.

AS THEY GROW OLDER should be read with the lights dimmed, read aloud at Halloween. It doesn’t matter how old your children are, there is a spooky story in this collection written especially for them to listen to…..

If they dare.

This collection of short, spooky stories is cleaner than most, with a mercifully-low error-count. The writer has a fluent, if rather naive style; and he has a good grasp of grammar, too. These things count strongly in his favour and were I reading this as a slush-pile submission rather than a published book, those good points would mean that he was automatically in the top ten per cent of the work before me.

He would still receive a rejection, though. His tone is at times a little patronising and while that might have worked a few decades ago it’s no longer acceptable in children’s fiction; and his stories, while perfectly pleasant, are neither convincing nor compelling. The story Nearly Nine describes a monster which lives in the narrow space behind the wardrobe: consequently, it’s shaped like a bath mat (and I quite liked that idea). The bath mat monster ripples across the bedroom floor one night, creeps up onto the bed where a child lies sleeping and—here’s the punchline—wishes him a happy birthday. And that’s the end of the story. This could have been done so much better: had the monster approached the child a few times but been thwarted, and had the reader had known that the monster felt the time was running out, the reader would have wondered why it wanted to reach the boy and there would have been some real tension to the story. As it is, we have some funny description of the monster, a brief moment of tension—and then it’s over, and nothing much has happened.

I’d advise this writer to work more on the structure of his stories, to consider developing their narrative arcs a little more fully, and to update his tone just a little. I read a respectable forty-nine pages out of a total of 369, and feel that this writer has plenty of unrealised potential.