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Book Review: Miscellany (Volume I)

January 4, 2022

No, this is NOT the collection I have a short story in. I have a story in Miscellany Volume II. This is Miscellany Volume I, although the “Volume I’ is implied. The book is just called Miscellany.

I enjoy short stories and Miscellany doesn’t disappoint. It’s a collection of seven stories by seven writers, who collectively identify with the writer’s group “Word Addicts.” Technically two of the stories are actually memoirs. Why the name Miscellany? Because, as the editor (and writer) James Elliot explains in the Foreword,

This is our third anthology and the first under the title Miscellany. This year rather than choosing a genre, we chose humor. You’ll find several genres here, and we hope you’ll smile, giggle or laugh, regardless of whether you’re reading a comical, scary, or dramatic story.

Author Amy Jorgensen sets the opening tale, “The Jewel of The Desert” in a small southern Utah town during the WWII interment. There was an interment camp in Delta, Utah. But, the story is less about the setting and the time. It’s about a young girl trying to find out what truly matters and helps her understand how to look beyond the superficial labels that society puts on us. I liked it. I’ve been to Delta and I felt the dust, the heat and the seemingly endlessness of Utah’s deserts.

The second story, Clueless attempts to put a story around the classic game Clue. Cortney Winn, gives us the story of a murder through the eyes of Professor Plum. And just as you stop paying attention to the story, instead trying to remember how the clue board was laid out, she offers you a twist that makes it all seem trivial. Followed quickly after by the feeling that maybe it was as trivial as a board game after all. I credit Cortney with keeping all the pieces of her universe and the boardgame of my youth in sync. Ultimately, the story didn’t work as well for me as I think it might have without the well known cast of characters. Like A Muppet Christmas Carol, it’s hard to see Kermit the Frog as anything except. . .Kermit the Frog, even if he’s playing a role.

The first memoir, Laugh So You Don’t Have to Cry-A Glimpse Into The Life Of Allison Brown, is, not surprisingly, written by Allison Brown. She takes us to a small town in Utah and then commits a horrendous offense. She starts to remodel a house while living in it. I’ve done that, not to the level she describes. With kids it’s chaos. It actually gave me some unpleasant flashbacks to our kitchen remodel over 25 years ago. We follow the struggles of the Brown family and their construction until it was interrupted by COVID. I don’t know why I assumed it was “long ago.” Probably because that’s was my experience was. The author also gives us some insight into the judgmental types that exist in many small Utah towns and their churches.

Space City, by C.R. Truitt couldn’t be further removed from Brown’s story. Space city is set in outer space. Truitt has clearly thought through many of the issues of living in space. We are introduced to three cousins. Who, despite, living in space, are typical young 20 year olds. They shop. They go to movies. They talk about boys. It’s just in Truitt’s story, they do all this in a space city. The story could have been set anywhere. The interactions between characters are genuine and engaging.

The story I found most out of sync with the rest was Two For One by A. Shepherd. The story starts normally enough. We are immediately introduced to a ghost. A kind of obnoxious ghost and the protagonist seems to revel in telling him so. They need to find his body. Only then will he stop haunting her. So, we started with ghost stories, and moved to detective story. The story then takes a very dark turn. At a svelte 11 pages, Two For One is the shortest story by far. And yet, in those eleven pages A. Shepherd takes the reader on a wide range of emotions, locals and the aforementioned genres. I’m not sure if I liked this story. And that’s a wonderful response to a story.

The penultimate story is Courtship And Marriage A True Story by Jenna Madsen. Although Madsen never mentions the school, I recognized my alma mater. I’ve been in the classes she so accurately and humorlessly describes. And I ALSO missed the movie in health class that has such a dramatic effect in the story. But, like her boyfriend, I’ve also not been able to handle witnessing one of life’s greatest miracles. Madsen’s memoir brought back a lot of memories, many happy, some I’d just as soon stay buried.

The final entry is by the editor that told us what to expect in the Foreword. James Elliott gives us Lacquered. The story of small people, in small trailers, making small lives. Elliott paints a bleak picture, but keeps just back of the edge of melancholy by making his protagonist a child. Someone too young to have been jaded by life, despite his circumstances. Elliott takes us through the story and the failure of characters in his depressing trailer park. And then, in only a few paragraphs almost added as a postscript, reminds us of the hope that children hold that we should strive to keep.

What I liked

Nearly all of it. The writers each have a different style and the stories range all over, but each was well written and gave us a chance to step outside ourselves and into another’s shoes, and world.

What I Didn’t

While entertaining, I felt some of the stories fell short of humor. And none made me laugh out loud. That’s not a requirement, but it would have been nice in a collection that was tied together by humor.

What It Means To You

If you are a fan of the short story format, you’ll enjoy Miscellany. Even the two memories are well written enough that they could just as easily be fiction. And while I don’t think they hit the “humor” mark. They absolutley hit the “enjoyable” mark.

My Rating

3.5 out of 4 stars

Volume II of Miscellany will be available on January 12, 2022. You can pre-order it here.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Pre-order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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(c) 2022 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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