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on Dec. 04, 2012 :
Oh my god--THIS IS WHY I LOVE LITERATURE!! Gary Henry's literary craftsmanship is stunning in this collection. As I was reading his widely divergent stories, ranging from the modern-day "advice column" of a bloodthirsty 15th-century Wallachian ruler to the creepy & supernatural experience of two backwoods moonshiners from the Ozarks, I was truly struck by his near virtuoso command of dialogue, characterization, atmoshphere, backstory, and pace (Hemingway, eat your heart out). Never before have I seen a writer cast his net so broadly across culture, time, and place and yet so perfectly inhabit his characters' souls and points of view along with the idiosyncracies of their dialect. I'm almost tempted to accuse the author of compiling stories stolen from other writers--how could one individual have written all of these? But after reading the entire collection, the common thread that proved to me that they all come from the same pen was this: Empathy.
Gary Henry loves these people.
This is not the tired and well-worn rut of a cynical, modern literary poser who only exists to show off his chops. What ties these stories together is
the tenderness with which the author treats each character's hopes and dreams and fears--as though he feels their emotions right along with them and regards their vulnerability as something precious--something that is perhaps the crux of being human. And to shine a light on that glimmer of humanity, Henry often delves into the fantastical realm of magical realism (imagine a Pushcart Prize winning short story meeting The Twilight Zone). By bringing his characters up against surreal circumstances, Henry forces us to see the inner workings of their minds and hearts in a manner that is as enlightening as it is oddly realistic. Yet despite his facile ability to navigate the very strange and supernatural (such as the brilliant story "Roth's Machine" that echoes the spiritual insight of Mary Shelley), one of my favorite stories in this collection is a piece of pure, gritty realism titled "The Good, The Bad, And The Hairy" that is reminiscent of Fight Club in its crushing brutality juxtaposed with courage. Yet nothing prepared me for reading Henry's extraordinary story of the frontier, "The Woman Who Sewed Wolves." This story is so perfectly crafted and heart-wrenching that as I was reading it I felt as though someone had combined the very best of Jack London's realism with Alice Hoffman's haunting magical prose that probes the depths of life's mysteries. "The Woman Who Sewed Wolves" ranks up there with some of the greatest short stories I have ever read--a genuine masterpiece.
But regardless of a reader's favorite genre, what you will come away with after spending time with Henry's stories is a new respect for what is the most fragile yet perhaps the most enduring quality in us all: our capacity for empathy and hope. Gary Henry is most definitely a writer to watch.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on March 06, 2012 :
I loved this collection of short stories. My favorites were, without question, "What Happened to Jory" and "Epiphany". Gary Henry spins a good dark tale and I am anxious to read his next book.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on Feb. 05, 2012 :
"What happened to Jory and other dark departures" is two things - it's five or so excellent short stories that had me thoroughly entertained, and a few others that don't seem to be entirely sure what they're doing there.
For those five stories, Gary Henry is some kind of literary chisel, sculpting brief, tightly-written worlds for brief and exciting stories from the metaphorical clay of the blank page. I never once felt that he explained too much, and only once thought he explained too little.
The main purpose of this collection is, I suspect, to introduce Cuigirtha and his roman-slaying background, as a prelude to his novel which is supposed to emerge sometime this year. In this capacity it did well, because I am eagerly anticipating the book!
The downside of this collection is that a few of the stories, as said, don't fit so well. It's common for a short story collection to have a limited number of "real" stories - that is, tales that have emotional impact - so as to keep the reader from suffering too much emotional churn as they invest in scenario after scenario in close succession. In this case nothing too jarring occurs and the quality of the writing is high throughout, but the lower degree of emotional realism in 'The Husband's Tale' clashes particularly noticeably against the dark whimsy of 'What Happened to Jory' before it, and 'A barbarian in Rome' after.
Mr. Henry does strive to keep a balance between the lighthearted and the serious, which he is mostly successful in. I enjoyed the hell out of this book, and when it was over I tried turning the page on my reader several times, just in case, because I was willing to accept that perhaps I had hallucinated the 'About the Author' blurb at the end. That's a good thing, this is a good book, and you should make a good decision and pick it up.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)