And other short stories
By Raymond Holmes
Reviewed by Michael Joll
There once was a time when the short story reigned, if not supreme, then at least on a par with its other literary brethren. Guy de Maupassant in France, Rudyard Kipling and William Somerset Maugham in England, Ernest Hemmingway, Mark Twain, O. Henry and F. Scott Fitzgerald in The United States and Anton Chekhov in Russia earned handsome livings as writers of short fiction. Their stories have stood the test of time and remain fresh and original to readers.
Fashions change, however, and have not spared literature. The short story now finds itself relegated to the literary equivalent of Five Finger Exercises for the Piano, the primer for writers who have yet to graduate from “Fun With Dick And Jane,” to actual writing – novels. Nothing could be further from the truth. A short story that is a miniature gem is no less worthy of praise than a gaudy, colourful costume bauble of great size and little value.
Witnesses and other short stories, a collection of a dozen short stories by Canadian author Raymond Holmes, falls happily into the category of SMALL GEMS.
As a storyteller, Holmes’ strengths lie in speculative fiction (Disclosure: Not this reviewer’s favourite genre). The collection, Witnesses and other short stories includes a half dozen of such stories. The title story, interestingly, is the last in the book. Speculative fiction aside, the author shows his versatility as a writer with humorous stories, such as Door D, Row Twenty-Two and Sidney’s Red Suitcase. Under Siege From Biodiversity is a side-splitter. Anyone who has moved from the city to embrace country life in retirement can relate.
You will find a journalistic side to Holmes’ writing in relatively straightforward tales in Deadline, Mister Polio and Valley Of Lost Yesterdays. The twists and turns that Homes introduces into these stories, however, turn them into a bagatelle. Follow the bouncing ball, and the reader will find the endings logical but still surprising.
For those who love speculative fiction, Gaba’s Violin, the wonderfully striking, discordant opening story in this collection, is outstandingin concept and execution. This reviewer’s regret is that, when faced with two metaphorical doors, the protagonist chose to open Door A rather than Door B. Door A is perfect for a short story, but Door B might have the legs for a novel.
Going Home and the title story, Witnesses, are ghost stories and worth the telling on Halloween. While the former paints a picture of gentle pathos, the latter reveals Holmes’ strong writing and sense of the dramatic. It is no accident that Holmes’ earliest literary forays were in playwriting. Death’s Door gives the reader the machinations of a paranoid mind trapped in the body of an old lady terrified of meeting Death, whom she believes takes many forms to gain entry to her grim life and grimy basement apartment in a condemned building. In the hands of a lesser writer, this story could fall flat. Holmes, however, breathes life into the woman with whom the reader will find a curious empathy.
As aforementioned, this reviewer generally does not enjoy science fiction, which made it difficult to embrace Anahita, which Holmes sets on a planet, quite possibly Earth, in the year 2338. Within the confines of a short story, it may not have been possible to provide some context to the narrative without the dreaded information dump, found all too often prevalent in the writings of novices. Holmes, fortunately, is no tyro. Some lead-up, however, could prove helpful to the non-speculative reader, especially for a sci-fi skeptic such as this reviewer.
The takeaway on this collection of short stories is straightforward. Holme’s writing style is fluid, dense, but readily accessible. He wastes few words, so necessary in short story writing. For the most part, he leaves out superfluous detail, challenging the reader to join the dots and fill in the gaps with his or her imagination. He gives the reader the heart of the story, the ice cream rather than the waffle cone.
One can only hope that aspiring novelists would take note.
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