I like short stories. I really do, although I don’t feature them often on Books & Tea. I have admiration for them because I think short stories require writers to have a certain talent that novel-writing doesn’t. Characterization, scene selection, and word choice become so much more important in a concise piece of writing. Short story authors have little room for error, too; in a novel, I can suffer through a dull chapter and still appreciate the story if the author manages to redeem themselves later, but I’m not as forgiving with short stories. I also tend to be more critical of short stories, and this is perhaps behavior learned from school days spent meticulously picking them apart and reading their related literary criticisms.
So, I don’t go out of my way to read short story collections, yet when approached to review a collection, called By the Wayside by Anne Leigh Parrish, I found myself tempted solely based on a story that involved a woman with a cyst in the shape of the Virgin Mary. I said yes! only to quickly find out this collection did not resonate with me.
Released: February 2017
Publisher: Unsolicited Press
Marvelous. Honest. Generous. From the first story to the last, “By the Wayside” catches your attention and demands that you give into its every whirl. Each character unfolds with a precision that will have you wondering how Parrish managed to create such real-to-the-bones people within a world that captivates you with ease.
This is going to be a short review because this collection did not evoke any strong emotion or reaction from me (which I suppose doesn’t have to be a bad thing because at least this review isn’t scathing).
I appreciated that this 18 story collection focused on women confronting…well, life. For example, in “An Angel Within”, the protagonist is forced to grow up too quickly and care for her younger (hellion) sisters following the death of their parents. And in “Artichokes”, the protagonist must accept the aftermath of her mother’s infidelity. In “Bree’s Miracle”, the protagonist must stand up for herself, when her spiritual doctor refuses to perform a surgery to remove an ovarian cyst simply because the cyst resemble the Virgin Mary. The conflict felt genuine and real (Virgin Mary withstanding). Further, the characterizations of the protagonists were intriguing (although I did think their voices were too similar).
Unfortunately, the ending to each of the stories is where everything unraveled for me. The stories ended abruptly, and the author wrapped them up too nicely and too neatly with forced symbolism and trite sayings about the lessons each of the women learned. It made what could have otherwise been a strong story seem hokey.
I am apparently an odd duck on this one though. To read rave reviews for this collection, be sure to check out the other tour stops.