I’ve got one more review for y’all! I’ll be taking April off, but until then, take a look at my thoughts on Goose Summer by Carol Samson.
(This review also appeared in the Left Hand Valley Courier; and here’s a link to the vlog)
Like with poetry collections, I think it’s a little tricky to assess collections of short stories. Critiquing the plot or the pacing or the character development doesn’t entirely work because each story is unique, it’s short, the author doesn’t have chapters and chapters to develop the story. So, while there may be overarching themes, or references to characters from other stories, each one is essentially it’s own unique narrative.
So rather than focus on the usual aspects of story evaluation like plot and characters, I think it’s the writing style for me that made this book so enjoyable.
Samson is a brilliantly descriptive writer. She paints each setting so clearly that you can see the little shops in the little towns. You can see the Rocky Mountains and imagine the prairie that was once the frontier. I also loved how she brought in real, historical people/places/events into the stories–like Heeney’s Tick Festival, the kidnapping of Josie Meeker, the juxtaposition of that Josie to Kit Carson‘s daughter Josephine, especially through the thoughtful analysis of his other daughter Rebecca.
As a Colorado native, I loved seeing this version of my home through this historical fiction perspective, and I enjoyed how Samson wove her stories throughout time. Not all of them take place in the frontier, just like not all of them take place through present day. They felt like stories of real people from various generations, almost like talking to your parents or grandparents, probing their memories, and then asking a stranger for theirs. Samson’s style relies on her description, but it’s also unique in it’s format.
While some stories are cut and dry–like a chain of events–others take smaller stories and snip them together into a larger one, flitting back and forth between vignettes (brief descriptions or accounts) in order to see a bigger picture. However, given this vignette style organization of some stories, it can simultaneously cause excitement for what happens next (I can’t wait to get back to find out more!), or mild confusion (wait, how does this relate to what I just read?). I enjoyed this style because it made the stories feel more like a conversation–when telling stories orally, we often jump around for context, and Samson does just that, and she does it well.
If you like short stories and realistic fiction, you’re sure to enjoy this collection. It isn’t too mature, nor is it too juvenile, so it has the possibility of appealing to a wide range of readers.
In terms of theme, there is not necessarily one overarching message that’s obvious. But Samson does seem to bring back the motifs of lines/sticks, photographs, and stillness quite often. For me, these recurring references, especially considering that most of the settings seemed to have a fairly small-town-vibe, gave the impression that memory and awareness are important to Samson. The lines are what connect us–whether we’re stick-figure people drawn by children or photographs by adults–the photos don’t just serve as a way to capture time, but to remind us of what once was and who we once were. Then, it’s in the stillness that we reflect on these connections and memories, and sometimes, in the stillness that we create the most poignant ones. Ultimately, this collection of short stories looks at realistic people living their realistic lives, and it’s a very entertaining and thought provoking collection because of that.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Keep an eye on my twitter for random thoughts and new novel snippets, and I’ll see you back here in May!