In his expansive short story collection, author William H. Coles treats readers to 16 years of his short form literary fiction, including two stories presented with their own graphic novel style adaptations. Interspersed are accompanying illustrations from various artists.
Coles excels at diverse and expertly crafted character studies. Whether his subjects are physicians or felons, carnies or clergy, teachers or truckers, each is a nexus of psychologically rich relationships. Some of his finest stories are sweet-hearted renderings of hapless romance: A carnival dwarf enamored with a dashing trapeze artist, a college boy’s ingenuous courtship of an Amish girl, a professor’s repressed desire for a vexatious student. Others memorably explore darker sides of love: a man on the eve of marriage confronting the legacy of an act of childhood violence; a famous artist whose family and career are threatened by rumors of an illicit relationship.
All-told, there are 34 stories, a novella, and the two graphic adaptations, and most are comparable to work found in premiere literary journals. “Dr. Greiner’s Day in Court,” for example, precisely captures the voice of a teen girl, her simultaneous loathing of and loyalty to her brother, and the crushing realization of their father’s guilt—all in six suggestive pages.
Some, however, fall short: “The Bear” (recounted by the survivor of a bear attack) ends untidily in hasty confusion, and “Dilemma” (where a surgeon father intervenes after his son’s attempted suicide) prizes medical minutia over emotional impact. Additionally, with the exception of the graphic novel adaptations, which are evocatively rendered, the illustrations are of unequal quality and inconsistent style, ultimately seeming a superfluous addition to Coles’ prose.
Careful curation would propel this collection from good to great, but there can be no mistake about Coles’s talent. In this extensive volume there’s a story for virtually everyone, and readers of journals such as Ploughshares or Glimmer Train will find a welcoming home within its pages.