Fourtold by Michael Stone is due out in paperback within the next few weeks. In honor of this event, I wanted to share with you my first collection review. I know I often promote the works of friends and strangers alike. If you have followed my journal for any length of time, you know that Mr. Stone falls easily into the first category for me. Years ago, I read “The Devil’s Fauna.” I hadn’t attempted any of my own writing at that point but was interested in having a go at the craft myself. I was impressed with his story. It was actually my first beta read. I have followed his career from that day forward. I have learned so much since that time. Sitting down to read his collected works, I felt a bit nostalgic.
Admittedly, I am not well read in broad literature or genre literature. I made great headway through the classics growing up. When I first encountered King in high school and then later Rice, I could hardly pick up a book not written by one or the other. I was addicted. Few books since falling in love with those two have satisfied my desire to be swept into a story.
I read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill this year. In pushing my husband to read the book, I compared him to King. I liked his down-to-earth style and use of music for the sake of the plot. His word choices also struck me. It felt like going home again. This was the only time in my life I compared another writer to King in any way, shape, or form. Ronald Damien Malfi,brotherrabbit, was kind enough to inform me that Hill is actually King’s son. I had no idea.
::deep breath:: Michael Stone has the ability to find the perfect word at the perfect moment. He sets a situation so that you can anchor it in reality (no matter the case). He places successful humor where you least expect it. His ability to pull you into a character to the point you feel their anxiety, agony, and fear reminds me of King in my early days of discovery. His writing embodies everything I hold dear about King’s work.
Beyond that, he pulls in some of my favorite things about the way Anne Rice writes. No, you will not find vampires in this collection. What you will find is an accurate sense of history and culture. You will find yourself slipping into explorations of religion and human nature to the point of self-examination without realizing just how far our dear writer has taken you. You will find yourself buried in the pysche of the main character. Most importantly, you will find the images he creates for you to be near overwhelming in both beauty and horror. This is the absolute best praise I know how to give a work of fiction. This is not support for a dear friend. This is respect for a job well done. A craft well mastered. I am in awe of the skillful execution of each piece.
“San Ferry Ann” begins our journey into Mr. Stone’s world. We follow two war veterans on a journey back to themselves. The backdrop is set in a Europe recently decimated by WW1. The reality is harsh. Townspeople see the flu in the same light as the plague. The weather mirrors the coldness of the hearts of people and the times in which they struggle to live. What strikes you most is the imagery created from the very beginning. Every word carries more than its weight. Images, painted in broad strokes and fine detail, create splashes of light and beauty as well as the darkest moments of battle. The humorous touches add just the right comic relief. The emotions depicted are genuine. You have no prince charming. You have real people dealing with real tragedy. War is its own brand of horror. Michael Stone serves this up in heart-wrenching detail. I think the word that kept coming to mind when I read the story was that it was honest. He did not need to go over the top to deliver the story. You are engaged in the characters. You will feel what they do and in the end, you will need the resolution.
“The Reconstruction of Kasper Clark” Mr. Clark has a deformity. Often in this story, I felt myself trying to look away in my mind’s eye. The details given are so real that you feel as though you are invading his personal space. You feel as if you are staring at Mr. Clark and he has caught your ignorant gaze. I descended with Mr. Clark into a place I was not certain I wanted to go. In fact, I wanted to beg him not to go. Somehow, I was compelled to continue the journey though. I had to see it play out for him. I am entirely sure he felt the same. My biggest medical fear is in the dentist office. I hope it pleases Stone to know that at times while reading this story, I felt trapped in the dentist chair. That fear, that terror is as close as I have come in my life to an out of body experience. Stone, you get points for creating that kind of anxiety in this reader. The transitions are brilliant and seamless. One moment you are dealing with plastic surgery, complex plastic surgery and the next you have travelled on to a reconstruction that is not merely physical but also mental. Perfection, acceptance, and societal norms all factor in to the grand scheme and are woven into this tale with skill that allows the themes to seep unnoticed into your subconscious while you bite your nails on behalf of Mr. Clark.
“The Terracotta Warrior” This is one vicious little tale. Of all the stories, this one felt the most like an adventure movie. I love the contrast between the main characters. I think the back story of each develops them and adds important depth that pulls you further into their struggle. There are surprises in this story. When the action starts, you are only allowed short breathers before it rumbles on again. We have a castle, a horse, and a motorcycle plus one nasty creature. Edge-of- your-seat is not an exaggeration. You really could not ask for more. Stone delivers it anyway. He is generous like that. The epilogue at the end is a bonus for me. I find it tidies things up nicely. Oh yeah and it gave me an extra shudder. Creepy.
“Lemon Man” We travel through two realities in this story. For all the fast moves of the warriors in the last, this one shifts at the speed of light or thought; take your pick. This story is set in the most every day manner. Our hero falls in love. He marries. He falls asleep…a lot. He has narcolepsy. Enter the lemon man. Exit the nice happy reality. One world unravels. The other grows increasingly angelic, surreal. The plot line delivers one devastating punch after another. Left breathless, you wonder what will happen next and to whom. Each struggle has its own downward spiral. You are completely wrapped up in it from the beginning. The last punch is a knockout. I felt every bit of this story; it is tangible. My mind will be processing this story for some time to come. For me, those are the best kind.
I can’t pick a favorite. I can tell you that I loved them all for different reasons. This collection was an experience for me. You really need to add this book to the top of your TO READ list, seriously. It is worth it. When you finish, come back and tell me what you thought. I am dying to know. I will leave the night light on for you. I think I am going to have to anyway.
FTC Disclaimer love. I purchased this book. Mike is a friend. His work is amazing. This collection is now one of my prized possessions. It has stayed with me over time.