Sunday, December 29, 2019

Without Expiration - William R. Hincy


William R. Hincy’s Without Expiration is one of the most unusual short story anthologies that I’ve read in a while. The twelve stories, many of which have previously been published in literary reviews, share a common theme. Are good people capable of doing things as bad as those done by bad people on a regular basis? And what about bad people – are they capable of on occasion producing the kind good deed that would make good people proud? And most importantly (at least to me), is if the answer to both questions is yes, just how big a difference is there, really, between “bad” people and “good” people (excluding, of course, the psychopaths among us). Only the great scorekeeper in the sky can answer that one.

As almost always happens in any short story collection that I read, a few favorite stories loudly made themselves known to me. In the case of Without Expiration, there are four of them: “Left to Soak,” “Friendly Stranger,” “A Study in Discontinuity,” and “Flying.”

“Left to Soak” is the story of a couple that has made it through forty-four years of marriage despite the husband literally not washing or drying a single dish the entire time. Even while hospitalized, all the wife can think of is the sink full of dirty dishes that inevitably awaits her attention when she gets home. What I love most about this one is the incredible amount of tension that builds right up to the moment that Helen gets her first glimpse of the kitchen sink. Has Hank actually cleaned up after himself in her absence – or not?

William R. Hincy
“Friendly Stranger” is one of those stories with a narrator I can identify with from the very first sentence (most of us living in big cities will probably see at least a little of ourselves in this guy) when he says, “…my sole goal in life is to avoid waiting at a red light for more than one rotation.” Setting a weird series of events in motion, one day a jerk in a blue Infiniti cuts our friendly stranger off just as it looks like he will be the last guy to make it through the red light. The jerk does make it through, but friendly stranger doesn’t. And what happens next, catches both men – and me – by surprise.

“A Study in Discontinuity” and “Flying” are very different stories, but I am hard-pressed to determine which are the good and which are the bad people in either story. In the first, a woman comes out of a coma every so often only to remind her husband of his sins against her, sins that are ancient history to him but still fresh memories for her. The second is about a father and son whose relationship would be described as “strained,” at best. Whose fault that is, is open to question.

Bottom Line: Without Expiration is a compilation of wild short stories that range from pure comedy to pure tragedy. There is even one that I read twice (because it is so entertaining) without ever figuring out exactly what the author was aiming for. I figure that’s the one that the back of the book describes as “absurd.” Has to be.

10 comments:

  1. I don't mind short stories, I just hardly ever read them. And when I do, I never know how to review them. ;D

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    1. I really like short stories and own dozens of compilations. I do agree with you that they are a little harder to review for lots of reasons. My main problem is that i find it too easy to inadvertently use spoilers in my reviews. So few pages to work with means that you end up talking in generalities more than you have to do with novels - and that doesn't often produce a review worthy of the stories, I'm afraid.

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    2. I can see that. Even having written scores of short stories, it's a challenge writing a meaningful review. I usually end up discussing theme and writing style, maybe focusing on a particular aspect I found interesting or noteworthy. I thought Sam did an excellent job.

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    3. Lark, if you're interested I'd be happy to send you a free copy of the collection. Sam's been so kind with his time I'd like to play it forward in whatever small way that I can. If you're interested, just send me a note on the contact page of my website and I'll get one out to you. Williamrhincy.com

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    4. Thanks for the kind words, William. I've said on this site many times that I believe writing a short story is even harder than writing a novel. An author has to work within the page-limitations of a short story but still manage to tell a story that connects with the reader. That can't be easy.

      I haver a friend in England who writes "flash fiction," stories of one or two pages in length, and I still can't figure out how he does it. His stories are excellent and i somehow did manage to review a couple of his books several years ago much along the lines you suggest here.

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  2. I'm not usually a reader of short stories, although I used to be long ago. :) I imagine is difficult to review short stories, but choosing a few that you enjoyed most seems to work at creating interest. :)

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    1. My fear is that if I spend any time talking about why some of the stories don't work for ME, people will avoid the whole collection figuring that if I think two or three out of twelve or fifteen or bad, that's too high a percentage for them to want to bother with the book. But I always have my favorites - and not surprisingly they turn out not to be the favorites of others. That's part of the beauty of short story collections - something in them for just about everyone to like and, probably, not to like.

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    2. Jenclair, I'd like to extended the free book cover to you as well (no review required). If you're interested, just send me a note on the contact page of my website and I'll get one out to you. =) Williamrhincy.com

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  3. I have my copy that William sent me and plan to read it in January. Looking forward to it.

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    1. I'm looking forward to your thoughts, Cath. I found that several of these stories surprised me and enjoyed reading them.

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