In this short story collection, the lives of a diverse group of characters occasionally intersect in a particular town – Roanoke, Virginia.
These five short stories vary significantly in tone and subject matter and include a glimpse into the lives of a few buddies settling their differences in a poker game and an Iraq war vet diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Clearly a labor of love by first-time author Alasdair Gardner, it is a unique and intriguing, albeit sometimes awkward, piece of literature.
Gardner is good at creating compelling moral dilemmas and juxtaposing contrasting characters and situations. The last of the stories, “Fire to Ice,” is the longest and also the most effective. It builds up some real drama around the face-off between a car company and a small group of entrepreneurs concerning an air conditioning system, and culminates in a satisfying yet bittersweet conclusion.
The writing style is, however, a distracting element. Gardner’s language is often wooden, riddled with clichés and often includes extraneous details that are not meaningful to the story. For example, Gardner may spend a long paragraph describing a setting that is at best tangential to the story, but fail to provide detail about key characters or places. The use of punctuation is also mystifying, with Gardner use of the ellipsis for example. This is used incessantly in places where commas and periods would serve much better, as in: “Jackson has already tried the same thing…our problem…you may remember…and their problem too I suspect.”
The book’s biggest problem is its the lack of faith in the reader. Even though, in a short preface, Gardner declares that the stories are “silly, immaterial,” “without any pretense,” he has chosen to subtitle the book “An Extraordinary Glimpse at Ordinary Lives.” He summarizes each story in an unnecessary introduction, and then provides additional tidbits about his inspiration in an equally superfluous “author’s notes” section.
Recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s himself, Gardner seems to be using his art to make sense of his circumstances with heartfelt stories, which require some additional polishing and professional editing to make their poignancy even more effective.
A diverse collection of stories that create some compelling characters and situations.