NEPTUNE’S GARDEN AND OTHER ADVENTURES takes its readers on a trip through the wilderness–from the Appalachians to the Chesapeake Bay. These often humorous stories mostly read like real-life anecdotes, as in the story Ceremonious Cicadas where thousands of bothersome insects, freshly emerged from the ground, plague a wedding. The sole exception to the collection’s tone and style is the titular story Neptune’s Garden, a short techno-thriller adventure story about an absurdly over-competent private detective investigating a murder case on a futuristic underwater research facility at the bottom of the Atlantic.
Writing humorous stories is hard. Reviewing them is, if anything, even harder. As the writer E. B. White observed, you can dissect humor like a frog, but the thing dies in the process and nobody cares about the result. Chandler’s humor is more comfortable than biting, more dad jokes than South Park. In itself, this isn’t a problem. However, his writing relies far too heavily on broad stereotypes. There are flighty, self-absorbed teenagers (in stories like Fashionably Late, Kerry and the Keys), emasculated husbands (A Hero for Herons), noble savages (The Omen, Red Cloud), macho military veterans and childish stoners. Rather than fleshing out his protagonists into characters worth reading about, Chandler mostly portrays them as caricatures, which makes them feel less real and, unfortunately, less funny.
Yet there’s an undeniable humanity and warmth to many of these protagonists–such as Thomas Hardy. Thomas is an environmental activist who arrives in West Virginia to protest the local coal company only to end up marrying a local girl and saving her life repeatedly in the stories Dust and Earth Control to Thomas Hardy. While far from perfect, Thomas is nevertheless willing to learn from his mistakes.
This acceptance of humanity’s follies and faith in their ability to change permeates Chandler’s stories. For him, exposure to the wonders and dangers of nature presents an opportunity to become better versions of ourselves. While hardly anyone’s idea of the literary classic, NEPTUNE’S GARDEN AND OTHER ADVENTURE should nevertheless be a satisfying read for those who enjoy nature as well as for those too lazy to leave the comfort of their living rooms.
~Danijel Striga for IndieReader