3 out of 4 stars
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In the collection, Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles, several short stories are told about the lives and events of many individuals. Each story is illustrated with the artwork of one of six commissioned artists and speaks on many different subjects. The stories told in this book feature a wide range of people; from a young Chinese girl forced to sell her body to that of a stagnant small town where people rarely leave to a man who struggles to find the right words to speak at his wife’s funeral. In another story, a woman who gives birth to a disabled child finds her freedom away from home but has to face her mother who cannot see her child as someone to love, but rather as a prop.
I enjoyed this book because of the variety. There is something new and exciting in every short story. The varied styles allow for a refreshing change between stories. Though not much connects the stories in regard to theme or style but the strength of the narratives does a fantastic job of binding this collection together as a whole. Overall, I enjoyed the illustrations but after a while they lost their effect, which I will discuss later. For the most part, I viewed this novel positively and found it an enjoyable read. It was well-written, interesting, and engaging.
While I did enjoy this book, it is not without its flaws. I found some of the stories to be extraneous and flat, without much expression. While some stories do a good job of creating tension through the directness of their narratives, some stories drag, and it feels like a chore to get through stagnant characters’ heavy dialogue that seems like someone is trying too hard to create a scene built around the flow of molasses on a sunny day. The illustrations too, could have been better used. They seem to be used to introduce a story rather than helping to develop it. This creates a very distinct rift that disrupts the flow of the novel. Overall, the stories have interesting premises, but some of them fail to fully engage a reader.
I rate this a 3 out of 4. I give this rating feeling generous, as I enjoyed the read for the most part, but when I found it to be lacking I found it very lacking. I did not give it a 2 out of 4 because I felt that when a story was well written, it had my full attention. I was truly eager to see what would happen as the story developed and what the characters would decide. It was satisfactory more often than not which definitely influence my scoring.
I would recommend this book for anyone who does not enjoy full length novels or finds them hard to get through. This collection has a fairly quick pace and gives you something new to think about in every story. I would not recommend this to people who like in depth stories with a lot of complexity. While there are deeper meanings in many of the stories, many are easily found as there are substantially fewer pages to get a message across in a short story.
Illustrated Short Fiction of William H. Coles: 2000-2016
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