These stories contain almost none of the haunting, evocative prose and sense of place that is so characteristic of McCrumb's Ballad novels. To be fair, a lot of these were written very early in her career, but they belong in an author retrospective, not here. Mostly these pieces are not really short stories at all, but sketches, impressions, and musings, not-quite stories. In the handful of tales that do have the beginning-middle-end structure of a short story, there are a few flashes of inspiration--the "letter" from Princess Diana, the tale of the ghostly father-in-law, and the couple of stories involving cunning revenge--but even these are often awkward and unpolished. Overall, I was disappointed with this book from a writer whose work I normally enjoy.
Boy, was I disappointed in this book, keeping in mind, Sharyn McCrumb is among my very favorite authors. It is short stories, some which are good, some okay, and others downright boring. I read 3/4's of the book and looked at my leaning TBR pile and said, why bother?
Really enjoyed this one. The length of the stories was just right for those of us who just have to have a "reading fix" and then get up and do something else. Of course, it WAS kind of like eating peanuts, one never seemed to be enough!!
This is the first story collection from best-selling mystery writer McCrumb (e.g., She Walks These Hills and If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him, both LJ 5/1/95). With settings, tone, diction, and characters varying so widely, the 25 stories might have been written by 15 different writers. The one theme common to many of the stories is the desire for?and usually accomplishment of?revenge. Some stories, especially the first one, "Precious Jewel," are very fine, subtle, and moving. In others, however, a distancing irony prevents the reader's involvement with the characters. Some nicely convey a feeling for the rural South ("The Witness") and others the often-fraught relationship between men and women that is not limited to any region ("A Snare As Old as Solomon," "John Knox in Paradise"). The length of the stories does not allow much plot, and McCrumb sometimes attempts to compensate by winding up with an obvious metaphor or startling action to provide a punch.