I hesitate to give any anthology I have a story in five stars, because I’m afraid no one will believe me. But I really did love this one. *g* If you feel like you’re interested after reading the review, you can go to my Publications page and use any of the bookseller links to pick up a copy.
WTF?!‘s main aesthetic is the surreal. It’s not going to work for everyone, but if you like surrealism, slipstream, magic realism, or genre-breakers, you’ll probably like this book. From aliens to intestinal issues and from childhood myths to dystopias, each sub-category in the book contains two or three stories, making it easy to find the ones that are right up your alley.
I find that short stories are remarkably personal, by which I mean a well-written story may just not “work” for a particular person, while they may find something with an imperfect ending or dubious central conceit a hilarious and enjoyable romp. With that in mind, rather than try to touch on every story in the book (there are thirty-seven of them!), I’d rather talk about some of the stories that worked best for me and the ones that I think are most likely to interest a broad spectrum of readers.
“Sex, Drugs, and Rachmaninoff,” by Adrian Stumpp, leads the collection, and that was about my only objection to it. The writing is fantastic, a vivid and gritty word painting that sucked me in immediately. The characters are well-drawn, and it was easy to care about them. It’s definitely a story that sucked me in, but because it’s the lead story, I wasn’t prepared for the non-traditional ending. I was confused and disappointed . . . until I had read three or four stories farther into the book and understood the aesthetic. Going back and rereading it without the expectation of a traditional ending, I enjoyed it greatly.
“The Squirms,” by Brandon Cracraft, worried me at first. The writing was good and the protagonists were likable, but there were a couple of stereotypes I found very offputting. If you pick up this book, don’t let that impression stop you from reading the story! They may look like stereotypes, but they’re actually character portrayals that are integral to the story. And what a story! It’s got a strong narrative arc and a fantastic ending that made me giggle in a very dark way.
“Bust,” by Curtis James McConnell, won’t make any sense to you unless you’re familiar with Greek mythology and philosophy, some of it a bit on the obscure side. I found the storytelling style engaging and the ending quietly beautiful. With that said, if you don’t “get” the central conceit of the story, you may reach the end and find yourself wondering what you just read.
On the other hand, almost everyone reading this book will be familiar with the mythology in “Mr. Claus,” by James S. Dorr. This one just knocked it out of the park for me. The characterization fed into the subtle understanding of what had really happened to Bishop Nicholas, so that by the time I reached the strong finish, it had gone delightfully creepy.
“Women Are Decoration,” by John Harrower, is another story where I was initially concerned about some of the stereotyping, but the stereotyping turned out to be the point. The central metaphor is carried out beautifully, and if I say anything more about this one, I might take away from its impact. Just read it.
“Neighbors: a Definitive Odyssey,” by KJ Kabza, is just brilliant. It took me just a little while to catch on to the setting and the characters, but all the clues were there and everything fell into place right on schedule. It’s a quest story with all the appropriate challenges along the way and a fulfilling ending. And really, you should read it just to meet Smashed. *g*
“Flexible,” by Karl Bunker, is one of those delightful magic realism stories which is so thoroughly grounded, it takes a while to notice when it’s gone over into fantastic. The narrative arc is good and the ending might be just a trifle heavy-handed, but it still works, and it’s highly, highly amusing.
And “The Matador,” by A. A. Garrison, wins the “this really ought to be a comic book” award for the anthology. It’s fascinating, and by the end of the story, I still wasn’t sure I really understood much of what was going on, despite the very definite closure of the narrative arc. But the prose is beautiful and the characters are brilliantly larger-than-life. I really wanted to see the whole thing drawn in the kind of lurid color that would really do it justice.