I tend to go through phases with short stories where I'll read tons and tons of collections, and then almost none at all, and I feel the start of short story obsession coming on.
I believe wholeheartedly that short stories are windows to the inner workings of a writer—in the gross, fascinating way that the Body Worlds exhibits are unbelievably cool and also utterly strange and morbid once you remember you are surrounded by dead people.
Short stories have to be tightly woven—getting right to the heart of who the characters are and what their motivations might be, what the setting of the story is, and the general thrust of the plot without all the long-windedness of creating backstories and flashbacks and interludes and asides that can be afforded to novels.
Short stories also need a good hook. There has to be something almost immediately that makes the reader invested, makes them want to keep reading. So there are a lot of balls to keep in the air when writing short fiction.
Land of Bones is the first book I’ve tried by Glenn Rolfe and he definitely has quite an imagination. The stories in this book all seem to be unpacking some kind of loss and deal with grief, anger, and how people react when faced with traumatic situations.
Though the content of the stories varies widely from tinges of the supernatural, to strange monsters, to a coming of age piece, to a vampire story—it really shows a wide range of interest and versatility. But interestingly, all the stories seem to hinge on the same emotional resonance, that feeling of loss and pain.
The emotion in the book comes from a real place, which makes them resonate with the reader. At the conclusion of the stories, I was often left thinking, what would I have done if I were put in that situation? How would I have handled it? I think one thing that could have made the stories stronger was if the characters could have delivered that emotional punch rather than leaving it up to the narrative. The stories basically all concluded with plot (and some were driven solely by it), more of a "telling" feature rather than a "showing" one, and for me, that really blunted the connection to the characters and their plights.
I read a hard copy of this book, so perhaps there are updates in the e-book version, but there are a lot of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors throughout. For me, that is an automatic one-star reduction. I can definitely overlook a typo here or there, but multiple errors on the same page is something that an editor would catch. I think this book needed another solid round of proofreading to correct things like all the misplaced commas, helping understanding of possessive apostrophes, and even just simple agreement of subject and verb. These things really do matter, and when they are wrong it is so disruptive to reading.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection and I think it shows a lot of promise. There are so many interesting ideas here, but they did feel a little underdeveloped at times as though the stories were just waiting to really be fleshed out all the way.
My thanks to the author for generously providing me a copy of this book to read and review.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.