Monday, February 16, 2015
Just Exactly How Life Looks (a book review post)
"The Death of the Second-hand Cowboy"
This is a great story. It's almost worth the cost of the whole collection. Not quite but almost. It deals with the rather metaphysical question of what an author (or a creator) owes to his characters (or his creation). Possibly, it's because of being an author but the idea of, basically, turning around and being confronted by one of my characters demanding to know what the heck I'm doing with him is... Well, I don't know if I would want that.
I mean, what if it was the cop from Shadow Spinner? How could I even answer the "Why?" that I'm sure would be his question. Because the story demanded it? Would that work for you if it was you asking "Why?"
Or, even worse, what if it was Tom from The House on the Corner? And that may seem an odd one for those of you have read House, but you don't know what's coming for him, and I do, and, if I was him, I would want to know why. Why him. And I don't know if those things can be explained.
So this idea of the Second-hand Cowboy showing up in the author's living room and wanting to know why is really intriguing and really frightening. And the most interesting part (at least to me) is that the author never attempts to blame anyone else even though he could very legitimately have done so.
It's a really good story.
The rest of the stories are of variable quality. One thing Pagel periodically suffers from is a lack of focus. A lack of focus can be used to good effect when it's being used purposefully to achieve that effect but, when the lack of focus ends up being just a lack of focus, it means that it's just a blurry word picture without any real discernible meaning. A few of the stories in this collection feel like that to me, like they almost say something, but they just weren't drawn together well enough to really get the message through (and I don't mean message in the sense of a moral, just message as the story itself).
Having said that, there are a few other very nice stories in this collection, "voices" in particular. Not actually knowing what it's like to be blind, I think Pagel did a good job of capturing living through sound. Also, "Panorama." I was unsure of this story until I got to the end, but it's very touching and, I think, really captures the subject matter. "Thinking the Lions" is one I probably like more than I should. It's probably a bit out of focus, but I really like the concept he's working with and, actually, think it could have been longer.
So, as I said, "The Death of the Second-hand Cowboy" is almost worth the cost, but, with 10 other stories, there's probably something else in there that will make it pay off for you. It's definitely worth a look.
And, because it's me, I have to touch on the technicals. This one came out back before Pagel really began taking an interest in editing, and it shows. Mostly, it's in the commas, which are all over the place, but there are various other things, too, along with some formatting issues. The commas, though, are probably not something that will be an issue for most people. Actually, probably the only thing anyone else will notice are the formatting errors as the paragraph indentations do sort of wave at you.