My laryngitis has morphed into an epic head cold, so these reviews should be…interesting.
Available Light by Phillip Gardner was the fourth short story collection I read this year. Why is that particular piece of information relevant? I’m not sure, other than it might be the reason I didn’t like it. I feel bad I didn’t. There wasn’t anything particularly terrible about the stories, either. They’re normally exactly what I look for in literary fiction – the prose is lyrical and almost spare at times, the descriptions just wordy enough to give you a sense of place but still allowing your imagination to fill in the gaps for you. I think what bothered me, though, was so many of the stories were scenes from an already existing life. You’re dropped into it and expected to be able to pick up what’s going on around you, despite there being no clear beginning, middle, or end. There are short stories that are more vignettes than an actual story, and I would say the stories contained in Available Light are those kind. Not my favorite.
For the record, my favorite short story collection I read this year was Rise by Annette L Binder.
We continue with the disappointing reads portion of our month with Jordi Punti’s Lost Luggage. Gabriel traveled all over Europe as a moving man, driving a truck from Barcelona to points elsewhere and back. Along the way he fathered four sons, all of whom were named Christopher: there’s Christophe, Christof, Cristofol, and Christopher. We learn how Gabriel met each of their mothers, and…that’s about it. I couldn’t finish it. I got to the 60% mark on my Kindle version and had to stop. Look, the expectation of literary fiction is that yes, the pace is slow and serpentine. They’re often studies in character, with descriptions that leave you angry because you can’t write anything quite so powerful and moving. When I look back at the stories that have changed the way I perceive the world, they’re almost always literary fiction. I’ve read enough of this sort of stuff to know what to expect, and I often look forward to it. This, however, was not slow and serpentine. Unless you’d read the back cover copy, you wouldn’t know that Gabriel has been missing for quite some time, because at the 60% mark, the reader still doesn’t know that. We don’t know that Cristofol is the one who is contacted by the police to let him know his father is a missing person, and that he wasn’t aware he had three half brothers in various places in Europe. Yes, there are a number of rules that simply don’t apply when writing literary fiction. Punti flaunted them all and failed.
I’d almost forgotten I had Wanderlust by Kitty French on my Kindle, and I read it, hoping it would be a nice palatte cleanser that would allow me to continue with Lost Luggage. Ruby and Ford are old college classmates. The hospitality program they completed took them in two different directions, Ruby to a country inn somewhere in England, Ford to various hotels in exotic locations all over the globe. It didn’t change the fact they love each other, or that they still haven’t found a way to be together. But Ford comes back to England at the last minute for a mutual friend’s wedding, giving them a chance to find out if they can make it work. The story is short, sweet, and to the point, but I wish it had been longer. While we’re told early on why Ruby couldn’t leave England to go globe-trotting with Ford, we never really find out why Ford had to leave – and why he hasn’t come back to visit in the years since graduation. Despite the lack of communication between the two, there’s little animosity when they reunite. It works, because there were never any promises made. But while it had a clear beginning, middle, and end, I still wanted more when it was over. More character development, more story, more of what drove them apart and what brought them back together.
Overall, a rather disappointing month for reading. Maybe December will be better?
Copies of Available Light, Lost Luggage, and Wanderlust provided by the publisher(s) in exchange for an honest review.