The Blue Serpent & other tales by Claire Buss.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
This imaginative, diverse collection of short stories is an excellent example of how to write shorts. Every story in The Blue Serpent & other tales has a beginning, middle, and end. Each tale stands on its own, and provides distinct perspectives and voices. Ms. Buss uses themes about data, technology, and society, to not only wake readers’ up, but to entertain.
One of my favorite selections is The River Flows In You. Here is an excerpt (about loss and grief). “It helps to push my hands into the earth, feel it crumble beneath my fingertips as I try to find meaning in my devastation. I stand still in a swirling, whirling vortex of people rushing, rushing, rushing, trying to run away from their hurt and their pain.
I have a feeling that Ms. Buss has scribed many of her writings while enjoying a drink at her favorite coffee shop, as there are three stories in the compilation that take place in such an environment. Other tales include nationally required brain scans for one and all, a pretend circus, and a man who is Ava’s fairy godmother (The Party’s Over).
No matter what your taste, you’ll find something in The Blue Serpent & other tales that will wet your whistle, tickle your fancy, or provide other pleasurable metaphors and cliches. One word of warning. The next time you go to a coffee shop to write, or just have a sip, make sure to heed any messages telling you to move (The Wrong Note).
A Risky Christmas Affair by Nina Romano.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
Serena is married to Walter. They have a jewelry store in Rome. They’ve traveled the world. Their marriage is complicated. A previous loss effects them deeply. Walter wants Serena to take one more trip (a flight alone, to London, to make a deal), before they spend more time together, or she goes back to school. She doesn’t want to go.
One of the treats about A Risky Christmas Affair is its solid sense of place. “For centuries, the castle had been a place of refuge for Popes, and the sight of the fortress gave her the strength she needed to rid herself os something dangerous. When she had the miscarriage, she had stayed at Our Lady of Angels Hospital, which overlooked this same castle.”
A lot happens in this story in a short time. There is mistrust, resignation, attempted robbery, an unwanted gun, expectations, a car wreck, meeting a member of parliament, remorse, and jealousy. Ms. Romano is an excellent storyteller, and it shines through with this tale. Though it is fiction, it felt like A Risky Christmas Affair could be true.
30 by Arthur Butt. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
What a great opening line. “The day the human race died started typically enough.” Thus, begins 30. A perfect short story with a powerful punch. Mr. Butt has crafted an excellent end-of-the-world scenario, with an unexpected character, and unanticipated ending.
The tale is told in the first person by Artie, who discovers that nobody else is on the Long Island expressway, as he’s making his way to work. No one accept a lone hitchhiker. Artie picks her up, and learns that her name is Gaea (Greek Goddess for earth).
The story reminds me somewhat of a play I wrote a few years back, which was produced and performed in New York. It is called The Goddess of Cancer. The play has a variety of women with cancer, who meet her (cancer) in person and discuss their predicament.
30 doesn’t take long to read, but it will leave you thinking. How did everybody die? What are we doing to the planet? If we call this globe “Mother Earth”, why don’t we treat her like one? Arthur Butt has created a memorable short we should all digest and ponder.
The Gift by Casi McLean. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
Savannah (Savy) and Ryan are very much in love, and planning on taking the next step, when Savy panics and takes off in her car during a snowstorm near Atlanta on Christmas Eve. When her car gets stuck in a ditch, she makes her way to a cabin off the road and meets an older woman (Emma) who lets her stay the night.
The Gift, by Ms. McLean, is a novelette that takes a sweet romance, with expected outcomes, to a different realm, and makes readers’ think twice about the choices we make. What would happen if we chose differently, or took a right turn, instead of going left? If our life is a matter of many moments, and decisions, how do we decide?
The author writes, “Collapsing on her bed, she stared at the ceiling. Had her entire Christmas Eve been a dream or some psychotic hallucination? Maybe the exhaust fumes had seeped to her brain. Oddly though, whatever happened to Savy in the last twelve hours had changed her perspective. Flashing on Emma, Savannah bolted up with a jolt.”
Casi McLean has written a contained, and thought-provoking, long short story that makes one ponder. The Gift reflects on relationships, family, career, living alone, and discovering what one believes are the most important things in life. There are no set answers, but every choice has consequences. Choose wisely.
The Boy With The Coin – A Short Story by Christina van Deventer. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
An old man tells his story about a boy he watches across the street, who finds something in the mud and then leaves. The man goes over and finds fifty cents atop a small mound. He is not sure when, or if, they boy will return to collect his find. In the meantime, it becomes clear that the narrator (an older man) has a strained relationship with his daughter (Allison), and doesn’t have long to live.
The Boy With The Coin is a well told short story that keeps the vague past present, and an edge to the tale that is palpable. Is forgiveness, or redemption, possible? Does anyone deserve, or not deserve, to die? Ms. van Deventer asks these questions in the context of the story, and with honest speculation. Does life and death “mean” anything? If so, are we responsible for our actions, or in-actions?
Here is an excerpt, with the narrator being reminded of his childhood joy of living, and present lack of such. “I don’t know what prompted me to cross the street to where the boy had been playing. Curiosity, I suppose. I was once a child myself, but I have long since lost my ability to find joy in the small things, the prizes among the dirt, and I wondered what the boy had found that could be of any consequence to his heart.”
It Started With a Cup of Coffee by Sudesna Ghosh.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
Ira is a writer. She writes in a cafe in Kolkata. If you are a writer (or reader) you’ll relate to her and It Started With a Cup of Coffee. What starts out as work, becomes personal. What becomes personal, becomes fodder for fiction. Here’s a brief excerpt from this intimate short story.
“One bite into the cherry red cream cupcake got her started. ‘God, this tastes like heaven,’ Ira smiled. Ira rarely smiled unless she felt obligated to. Or if she met a dog or a cat. The cupcake was special. What she didn’t notice was that she was smiling at the person sitting across from her – the gentleman with nice eyes and lashes. Uh oh.”
Though Ira is writing a romance in her favorite coffee shop, which is due to her editor (Lisa) within a month’s time, she’s not feeling very romantic. Trying to listen in on couple’s conversations at other tables helps a little, but isn’t always possible. Perhaps the main character in Ira’s story is herself.
Ms. Ghosh’s It Started With a Cup of Coffee is a relatable tale, especially if you see yourself as a scribe, and well worth a few rounds of caffeinated inspiration.
Mane of Redemption by Aaron D. Brinker.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
Good and bad. Right and wrong. Angel and fallen angel. Jesus and the devil. The contrasts in Mane of Redemption are clearly defined, as are the main characters (Jude and Adam). This short story, by Mr. Brinker, sees evil for what it is, and leaves the door open for change and redemption. It’s also about the choices we make and the resulting consequences.
Adam is confronted with choosing whether to keep his promises or have a change of heart and have his life upended. “Adams mind started spinning. He thought of what kind of torture and punishment Lucius had in store for him to witness. He couldn’t bare anything happening to Jess or the kids, let alone it happening in front of his eyes and knowing he could have prevented it.”
Both Jude and Adam are given special powers to assist their respective angels, and able to change into powerful creatures. They both relish the power, but must practice to have their new identities become fully manifested. A number of questions in Mane of Redemption are left open until the ending scenes, when it becomes clear who must fight whom, and what the victory will cost.