Sunday, December 28, 2014
Review: According to Adam, compiled and edited by Beryl Belsky
I haven't written any reviews for a while. Partly this is because of time constraints. Partly it is because none of the books I've considered for review recently have come up to standard. I have decided to be a little more strict about what I will and won't review. While previously I set the minimum standard at 3 stars, I am raising this to 4. Essentially, then, in future these reviews can also be considered as recommendations. They are of books that I consider as ranging from very good to brilliant.
This is the final review that I am publishing under the old regime, which will begin in the New Year.
Some months ago I reviewed the first volume of writing initially posted on The Writer’s Drawer website (http://www.thewritersdrawer.net/) and brought together by Beryl Belsky. I gave that anthology an overall rating of 3.5 stars. There were some outstanding pieces in that earlier volume, but also some that were less satisfactory. Here in this second volume the overall standard is more even. Although I will be giving this collection 3.5 stars also, I will be rounding it down to 3 stars rather than rounding it up to 4 (as I did with the first volume) where this is necessary.
In the earlier volume, despite some less successful pieces, the outstanding pieces really lifted it. Here, although it reaches on ‘average’ a similar standard, there are fewer outstanding pieces to lift it higher. Although in general I prefer fiction to non-fiction, the best piece here for me is a non-fiction piece, ‘Sign Language for the Blind’ by Matt Burkholder. This is an excellent piece, beautifully written, without a word wasted or a word missing. This is the only piece to which I would give 5 stars. ‘A Boy, a Girl, and the Sea’ by Richelle Shem-Tov is a moving story, dealing with Arab/Israeli issues. It is simply and elegantly written and is worth 4.5 stars. ‘Snow’ by Dominik Jarco is nicely written, but skirts the edges of being overwritten. It’s actually great that the reader never knows what is really happening in this story. It captures a moment of intimate communication between two people. This also is worth 4.5 stars. The other story to which I would give 4.5 stars was ‘Joaquin’s Gold’ by Robert Walton. It is a nice story, well constructed and well written.
I would not single out any of the remaining stories as ‘bad’. I would rate them from 3 to 4 stars, with many falling in the middle at 3.5. Some—including the title story, ‘According to Adam’ by Declan O’Leary, ‘A Tale from Ikkapur’ by Sowmeni Menon, ‘Cecilia and Sun Tzu’ by Chris Palmer, ‘The Painting’ by Pothoppuram Kesavan Jayanthan, ‘Pigbeef’ by Niles Koenigsberg, and ‘Rain’ by Peter Hepenstall—would have benefited from tighter and more careful editing.
While the section entitled Biography/Realism seems to stand apart as ‘non fiction’, I found the division between Fantasy/Romance and Mystery/Horror/Adventure unnecessary and unhelpful. Perhaps this reflects a general dissatisfaction I have with the whole concept of ‘genre’. I would have been just as happy to see the whole fiction collection presented in alphabetical order by author, without this somewhat arbitrary division into broad genres.
So while ‘on average’ the standard here was similar to that of the first volume, I enjoyed it slightly less. This demonstrates for me how a collection can be lifted by some really outstanding pieces, even when it contains some poorer pieces. Here, while there were no real clunkers, the only really outstanding piece was ‘Sign Language for the Blind’. This alone was not enough to lift the collection to 4 stars. I will be rounding it down to 3 stars where required.