RJ Stastny’s short story collection offers pieces that vary widely in tone, from the romantic to the ghostly.
There’s a gentle, readable rhythm to Stastny’s prose, and the characters experience quiet hopes and sorrows, like the friendship that flowers between a retiree and a gardener in “Swim” or the romance between two artists in “Soufiane.”
Unfortunately, as a group, they have little to lend them cohesion or impact. Too many stories rely on a premise that doesn’t bear up to rereading, like the telegraphed twist to “The Hill.” Plot and character are sacrificed for the sake of device in “Doggone,” about ghost dogs; “Sweet Alice,” about a malicious garden gnome whose owners experience calamities, and “Pine Street,” about mysterious disappearances connected to a “phantom” coffee shop, all of which end without readers understanding the joke or the point.
Those versed in the craft of short fiction might wish Stastny had brought more of it to bear. Too often, the author relies on pedestrian, non-specific prose like “he couldn’t help but be distracted by the strikingly handsome director, Marco.” The biggest obstacle is expository dialogue in the fashion of “Roberto, I’m disappointed how all of this has gone down. While I have to admit there is something exciting about starting a new adventure, it’s hard for me to imagine myself an operative of the CIA…”
Most of the pieces are sketches rather than developed stories. For example, “Crushing Confessions” provides the narrator’s random memories of crushes. The reliance on exposition instead of scene steals what little suspense might build in stories like “Waukena Falls,” about the fate of a charlatan lightning rod salesman and his family, in which there’s no payoff and no consequences to the final reveal.
The collection shows imagination and range in its subject matter and might amuse those who like short fiction with a gentle joke, but it otherwise leaves a very soft impression.
Also available as an ebook.