A few weeks ago, I was approached by a Mr. James Hutchings to review his e-book "The New Death and Others" on this blog. Despite the fact that I was crazy with other obligations outside of the blogosphere, I was extremely excited to do this review. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I was unable to read the e-book to my satisfaction (in other words, repeatedly. With annotations.) Luckily, in the pre-Thanksgiving laziness, I was able to get some reading done. Short version: Eee! New Book! Yay! Fiction and poetry!
"The New Death and Others" is a 94 page anthology comprised of 63 pieces of short fiction, sudden fiction, and poetry. The general content is dark, a little cynical at times, punchy, and gripping. Content wise, he reminds me a little bit of Joyce Carol Oates darkness mixed with a bit of George Carlin bite. Make sense? It sure didn't to me when the comparison first came to my mind, but in rereading the anthology I found that I've changed my mind quite a bit.
James hooked me with his first sudden fiction story called "The God of the Poor" which begs the question of who claims responsibility for those who seem to be routinely ignored by God(s.) At less than half a page, I feel like this short story really hooks the reader and sets a good tone for the end of the collection. The same is true of the last piece, "Charon", which ends on a similar note but with the sense of finality that the first one didn't (and should not have) had. However muddled the themes and messages might become in the middle of the story (and, at times, the conflicting messages do appear very blatant to me), these book ends are truly excellent pieces.
One of Hutching's consistent stylistic qualities is that much of the action happens off of the page. This sparse attention to story telling bucks the formula that many would associate with darker fiction and poetry (known for being ornate in style), which makes for a very refreshing read. Even I, worried as I was about reading 94 pages, could handle it because of the sparse language and careful attention to detail that he applies. Even the more modernist pieces that don't deal with such fantastical worlds as others benefit from this structure, in particular an untitled poem comes to mind, two couplets that give me a clear image of two different reactions to war within the human race. Very gripping.
Not many writers can accomplish poetry and fiction with equal attention and pleasure, but this anthology presents some very strong examples of both. Some of Hutching's poetry rhymes, but the truly great thing about it? I couldn't tell. The word flow and placement of the rhyme seems effortless. I'm a little bit jealous myself, writer that I am.
One of the stories, "Everlasting Fire," stuck out to me because it had six author's notes explaining what he was talking about in the story, clarifying that the font the character used was Helvetica and so on. I was full on prepared to raise my eyebrows and dislike the story for this reason until I realized that the notes added a stylistic trait, not just clarification. They were witty in context and I was glad to have read them at all. I have never had a story use that successfully before, and I commend Hutching's for that from the bottom of my heart.
If you're interested in James Hutching's work, you can purchase it here at Amazon for .99USD or here at Smashwords for the same price. I really recommend it if you want a quick read, something new and interesting between copies of Paradise Lost and Othello. Oi.