“Hearts live by being wounded.” – Oscar Wilde
Authors: Eric Arvin, Abigail Roux, SJD Peterson, Jason Huffman Black, S.A. McAuley, TJ Klune
Pages/Word Count: 148
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: Of humanity there are darker tales. Stories that take some squinting to see through. Unconventional stories. Tales that threaten to break the heart by cruel twists of fate, the dogs of war, or demons that are all too real; whether they be of unrequited love or a karmic slap in the face. Happy endings take a time in coming, and some never arrive. But through all the darkness there is light, a glimmer of hope and wonder…if one has the will to see it.
Review: I don’t know about you all, but I think it’s kind of rare to run across an anthology that, when I’ve finished, I can say that I honestly loved every story in it. But when a group of authors of this caliber—and one new-to-me author—comes together on a project that shows the bittersweet side of life, the raw and gritty side, and of the giving of one’s heart and soul to another, and in the risks we take in loving someone so completely in spite of all the potential consequences and outcomes, it’s a book that makes you look for the silver lining around what feels like a storm of emotion.
Eric Arvin’s The Demon of Jericho is an angels and demons story, beautifully told in only the way the man who wrote the haunting and spectacular The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men could tell it.
It’s a story of a savior sent to Jericho to become its salvation, and of the man, Jebediah, who finds the angle Goshen then becomes the sacrifice which helps save the town from evil. It’s fantastical and filled with the faith of a never ending love.
War is A Cruel Thing, and Abigail Roux has pulled out all the stops in this brilliant and tragic story that chronicles a few days in the lives of a platoon of Marines on Wake Island, in the days just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Told in a series of flashbacks, Abigail reaches deep to wring out every ounce of heartbreak from this story. The men fought bravely in spite of the monumental odds against them, loved deeply because of the monumental odds against them, and in an unflinching realism, succumbed to or survived the harsh realities of World War II. This story is pure pain and raw emotion brought to life, and it’s outstanding.
SJD Peterson is the provider of the raw and the gritty in the anthology, offering a true “Karma’s a bitch” story in Wrong.
Pride goes before destruction in this full-circle tale of revenge, in which Judas Mattox hands Lee Matthews his arrogant ass on a silver platter, methodically and systematically destroying the man’s life in the process. Matthews is a man without conscience who finds himself paying dearly for his “do anything in the pursuit of wealth” actions. Judas is the ruthless antihero of the story, the perfect foil to Lee’s villain, and the end left me grinning evilly at the cosmic payback.
This was the perfect antidote, and contrast, to the somber A Cruel Thing, and I loved it in such an evil way.
Jason Huffman Black’s Anguish is a bit of flash fiction, more like an interlude than an actual story, and one I had to read twice just to get a feel for it. Read either literally or metaphorically, it works well as a brief glimpse of the human condition and is the scene of a man at the end of his tether who decides to take control of his life in a potentially tragic fashion.
The Hotel Luz is S.A. McAuley’s outstanding contribution to this collection, a story about lost love and missed opportunities, about the passage of time and the ways in which bittersweet memories of the past can’t be relived and recaptured in the present.
It’s a story of moving on and realizing that the lives Leo Murphy and Elia Nassir built apart from each other over the course of years have become the ones they were meant to live, and their future won’t be found in the past. It’s not a story of loving the one you’re with because you can’t have the one you want, but a story about realizing the one you want and the one you’re with are one and the same.
S.A. McAuley made me work for the happy ending in The Hotel Luz, and it was well worth every word of it.
Finally, rounding out the anthology is TJ Klune’s poignant homage to a once-in-a-lifetime love, John & Jackie, another story that puts the reader through the emotional wringer, in the tale of two men who meet as boys in the 1950s and build a life together that spans over seventy years.
There’s nothing about this story I didn’t love, as John and Jackie, from the vantage point of their twilight years, reminisce about the ups and downs upon which they’d built a life together. TJ perfectly captures the emotional resonance of this romance, then delivers the story like an assault on the heart as the end draws ever near for these two men. It delivers the perfect endnote to this compilation of stories that ask us to look for, and at, happy endings from a slightly different angle, in this love story that transcends the end.
If I’m not the last person on the planet to read this book, then I highly recommend getting hold of it sooner rather than later. Just make sure to have a box of tissues nearby for the journey.