Howard Rogers’ collection of stories is a medley of promising ideas. While disparate, many involve the search for something — a loved one, the secret to life on earth, a cure for cancer.
The title story, “Tin Soldier,” follows Booker Kettinger, a character haunted by the death of his grandfather and obsessed with uncovering the secret behind the mysterious organisms he discovers during a drilling operation. “Unsung Hereos” describes the experiences of Clayton, a former Confederate soldier who may now be among the living dead. The final story and the longest in the collection, “It Never Rains in Pratt,” investigates what life may be like in 2035, when the scorching heat of climate change forces people in the Midwest to live underground. Other stories in the collection follow a woman searching for her mother, a blind dog that prevents a disaster, and a man who believes table salt may be a cure for disease.
Though the ideas behind the stories are intriguing and there is some effort to unite them through a central theme of seeking, there is little else binding these six tales together, and the collection reads like a disjointed assembly of awkward parts. A dearth of paragraph breaks and an abundance of punctuation issues (“At 10:30 a.m. Bronco mixed gin and squirt. For himself and Lacy and switched to the political news channel”) makes for a difficult reading experience.
In addition, Rogers is fastidious in providing surface-level details, but the deeper, more interesting elements necessary to create a nuanced, resonating short story are absent; the stories are long on extraneous details – like dates and recounting a character’s every move – but short on character and theme development. Ultimately, Rogers focuses on “telling” rather than “showing,” an approach that encumbers characters and plots that might have sparkled if left to reveal themselves on their own.