Austin L. Wiggins’ first short story collection is a light volume, containing just six stories of less than ten pages each. He could have bulked it out, but favouring quality over quantity is probably a good idea for a new writer. Nothing kills the buzz of a great story like a weak follow-up.
These six variations on a (loose) theme of unbreakable bonds and moral dilemmas aren’t all equally impressive, but there’s no dead weight dragging it down. With recurring tropes of gang violence, bored office workers and suicide across several stories, it’s the inconsistencies that keep things interesting.
Two stories – ‘The Bird That Flew Overhead’ and ‘Of Flowers’ – feature inexplicable paranormal finales that shatter the gritty realism, but you could always put these down to hallucinations if that bothers you.
‘Radiance’ takes place in a slightly more surrealist world than the rest, as a fussy office worker comes across a series of strategically placed messages during his daily routine that spell out where the day is headed.
And after five stories dealing almost exclusively with men, a female voice in ‘What Ails Us’ is refreshing.
Most different of all is ‘The Outsider.’ This tale of an unappreciated tuba player doesn’t include any violence and is the only story with a happy ending, or as close as these get anyway. Non-coincidentally, it’s the most enjoyable of the bunch.
There’s an oft-repeated belief that short stories don’t make any money, and writers are better off jumping on the latest YA/vampire/erotica bandwagon to churn out an incomplete novel series. But as a big fan of short-form fiction, I’m happy to see the art form still going strong with talented new voices. I just hope that Wiggins’ next book’s a bit longer.