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44 stories, 19 poems, all wrapped into a 100-page book. Usually this is the paragraph where I’d summarize the plot or, when reviewing a short story collection, the theme connecting the stories. That’s not something I can easily do for ‘The New Death and Others.’
Inside you’ll find satires, parables, and allegorical gods. Some stories, like ‘The Adventure of the Murdered Philanthropist,’ might as well be punny B-movies in story form. Some are really short and read like comedy sketches, such as ‘The New God,’ while others are long and verbose – ‘How the Isle of Cats Got its Name,’ for instance. Then there are the poems. Though the lengths vary as much as the lengths of the stories vary, they all rhyme.
Organization was my biggest problem with this collection, next to the verbose stories that either confused or frustrated me (‘The God of the City of Dust’ both confused and frustrated me). After a while, jumping from a punny story to a parable to a poem became jarring. When I finished the book and looked over my notes, I realized that I really liked a majority of these stories. However the lack of organization distracted me from appreciating the stories while I was reading them. This book could easily be broken up into separate books – one book in dedication to the parables, one book in dedication to the allegories, one book in dedication to the fiction with a specific plot, etc.
‘Todd’ appealed to me the most. A boy shares what his last odd, surreal experiences with Todd, a kid who was murdered, were like. It can be offensive here and there, but I feel like that’s just because the story is told from the first person point of view of someone who happens to legitimately think those things. I loved the style, the voice, and the feeling that the narrator was really talking to me.
As far as poems go, ‘The Apprenticeship’ was my favorite. Death is about to take the soul of the main character’s lover. But, because Death is tired of his job, he makes a deal with the main character – I’ll let your lover live if you become my apprentice.
Putting organization and verbosity aside, most of the short stories themselves were amusing and well-written. I felt James Hutchings did best with parables, poems, allegories, and snapshot stories. Hutchings excels in metaphors, similes, and powerful detail/word usage that sticks with the reader.
I’m torn about this collection. Sometimes I loved it; sometimes not so much. However, I like it enough to recommend it to those who wouldn’t mind a quirky collection of stories and poems that will mostly make you smile or think.