Monsters: A Book Review

I don’t normally review books in soft-copy. It’s difficult to read from a computer screen for that amount of time, and I find it easier to relate to a book’s solid permanence; if I can pick it up to hold and read, maybe you can [and should] too. That aside, I agreed to review something a friend had written, so here it is in all its candidness.

Monsters: a collection of short stories is exactly that, seven tales penned by  Caleb Bollenbacher, a 2011 graduate from Baylor University. Only available on Amazon for the Kindle, an excerpt of the book’s description is as follows:

Nobody yearns to be a monster. But sometimes it works out that way.
Sometimes you merely find yourself looking into the face of one.
Sometimes that face is your own.

The theme is readily stated here, that within these pages are stories about people who have something hideous about them, a similar thread that can be taken and bound together with others to form a single, cohesive collection.

Settings range wildly from the newly settled township of “Jezebel” to the modern lives of the twenty-somethings in “Suicide Blondes,” all more or less achieving a relative degree of success. The diversity in genres isn’t what’s jarring, however, it’s the theme we’re asked to search for, and the pains the reader must take to find it. Instead of the stories easily falling under a single banner they feel more like various pieces of writing, forced to stand in line like  schoolchildren.

That’s not to say that they’re not good stories. “Monster” is easily the best of the bunch, a fairly unique approach to a classic myth that’s pulled off excellently, leaving the reader with a moment that’s not jaw-dropping, but immensely satisfying nonetheless. However, it’s the simplicity of that narrative that makes others seem almost needlessly complex.

“To Be Broken” tracks the lives of two former classmates and the vastly different lives they now lead in the light of political turmoil. While the supposed climax of the story is relatively surprising and very well-done, it refuses to stop shortly thereafter. Instead, a secondary revelation occurs, one that weakens the story as a whole by complicating it. “An Eye Full of Citrus” is a post-modern yarn that drags the reader back and forth from one setting to the next, a drawn out tale that turns out to be exactly what you were thinking the entire time.

If there’s anything that the author excels at, it’s endings. “Walrus v. Carpenter” is an amusing jaunt through Carrol’s fantasy world, and wraps up neatly with an added dose of irony. “Suicide Blondes” would have been my favourite for its last two pages, but ultimately feels like the events leading up to it were undeserving. That aside, it’s still a definite highlight of the collection.

As a whole, it’s certainly no A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, English writer Julian Barnes’ collection of short stories; it has the same premise but is vastly more diverse in terms of both genre and style. Where Monsters asks readers to search for its title within, A History requests nothing, providing a trail dotted with bits and pieces that a discerning reader will notice come together to form a complete work.

At roughly 110 pages, and for only $2.99. Monsters won’t put a huge dent in your wallet. If you own a Kindle this could be a chance to pick up some light reading and support a storytelling self-starter. Bollenbacher, as his bio states, may have been writing for a while, but he certainly has a ways to go in perfecting his craft.  

Monsters: a collection of short stories
Written by Caleb Bollenbacher
Self-Published

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