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THERE GO I (A Collection of Short Stories)

By Bill VanPatten

IR Rating:
Those familiar with author Bill VanPatten's work will relish his immersive take on small-town California, but for everyone else, THERE GO I (A Collection of Short Stories) is a fitting introduction to an exceptional writer.
IR Approved
A collection of short stories offering readers a ‘slice of life’ tour-de-force through small-town California.

There’s an art to crafting a compelling short story. The first step, of course, is acknowledging that a short story is not a novel—unlike long-form writing, an abbreviated word count leaves little room for indulgent detours. Concision is also imperative to the pacing, plotting, and characters–no small feat for the majority of writers. That said, when an author ‘nails it,’ the resulting work often combines a satisfying immediacy with a lingering emotional resonance. Equal parts haunting and compelling, Bill VanPatten’s THERE GO I (A Collection of Short Stories) is a perfect example of this dichotomy.

The unifying theme of VanPatten’s collection is California’s Central Valley, a bastion of ‘small town’ life nestled in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Throughout thirteen entries, VanPatten offers readers a ‘slice of life’ tour-de-force transcending decades and cultural perspectives. It’s an immersive trip thanks largely to VanPatten’s skilled writing, a point personified by the opening line of the collection’s first story: “She wore bitterness like it had been carved into her face by a mad sculptor.” The vivid language and concise character work continues from cover to cover, resulting in a collection that’s simply a joy to read. Some stories admittedly hit harder than others, but when lines like “Her years with Richard had trained her to acquiescence when confrontation loomed” and “I was too young to know that sorting her life out meant taking up with another man” are commonplace you know you are in good hands.

While loosely connected by the rural California setting, VanPatten’s narratives run the gamut. Be it the confessional tone permeating “The Night Before,” the uncomfortably satisfying “Beneath,” or the palpable wanderlust at the heart of “Buzz,” each story succeeds at eliciting an emotional reaction. And for those in search of a solid ‘twist ending’ (another short-story hallmark), VanPatten delivers “Loss,” complete with a stunningly effective emotional gut-punch that few will see coming. Without giving too much away, the genius of VanPatten’s use of fog is only fully realized in retrospect. Given the consistency and quality of his writing, any obvious critiques–VanPatten may lean a bit too heavily on metaphors–feel subjective at best. In fact, it’s only the collection’s length that threatens to inspire any lasting disappointment. At just over a hundred pages, the final page arrives far too soon. Fortunately for first-time readers, VanPatten has a handful of other well-received titles (including four novels) available.

Those familiar with author Bill VanPatten’s work will relish his immersive take on small-town California, but for everyone else, THERE GO I (A Collection of Short Stories) is a fitting introduction to an exceptional writer.

~James Weiskittel for IndieReader

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