Wednesday, October 01, 2014

One death, Nine Stories edited by Marc Aronson & Charles R. Smith Jr.

This book is described as a novel told in stories. Each chapter is a separate short story, but they are all connected around one character's death and the idea of "initiation." This is an interesting concept, but I didn't feel it was as successful as it could have been.

Kevin Nicholas is dead and his death touches the lives of many people. There are the few who only know him in death, such as Morris and Nadira who work at the funeral home or Jackson who learns about his death through a cousin on Facebook. Then there are those who knew him intimately, like his sister Lydia or his first love Candy. There are his best friends and friends who had only just begun to know him. Either way, all of these people came in contact with Kevin in one way or another and they all have a story to tell.

While each character has a story to tell, I didn't feel as if there really was a central story. In the Afterword, the editor says this was a "Pick-Up Game, a cross between an anthology and a novel...individual stories written by different authors shifted character and story lines, making each one both a piece in itself and part of a larger whole" (145). While I can appreciate what they were trying to do, to me it felt too disconnected. The only connection was that Kevin died, nothing else. There were three chapters in a row ("Initiation," "Just Once," and "The Next Next Level") that flowed together as similar characters appeared in each story. In those three chapters you saw a history developing, a story forming. Even the next one, "Running Man," helped to build the damaged character of Kevin. After reading those four in a row, I thought it was building to something, the truth behind whatever happened, but then it just died and went off in another direction. I think that's my problem with this book - things are just disconnected and I don't feel that it goes anyplace. I don't feel as if this book gives any closure, even if the Afterword feels like the last chapter brings it all together. The editor also said there was a continual theme of initiation, and while I saw it strong in some, it didn't feel strong enough in others to say that connects the stories. I've read another book along the "Pick-Up Game" concept where multiple authors work together to write a novel - each chapter is a different author but it continues the story, sometimes taking it into a completely different direction, but all connected. I've also read an anthology where each author writes a different interpretation of the same event. This novel tries to combine those two concepts and isn't, in my eyes, successful.

It's not really a novel, but it's too connected to just be considered an anthology. However you want to classify this, is does open you eyes to see how one person's death can affect multiple people, even if it is in the most minor way, and the different situations in which we are initiated and learn something about ourselves.

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