Friday, April 1, 2011

The Kissing Game: Short Stories

I don't normally pick up short story collections. As a writer, I think it's fun to write and collect my own short stories, but personally, I'd rather read a longer story I can get invested in. But my husband has collected some of his short stories into a self-published book, and he's in the process of gathering a few short stories from friends to make an e-book. And I did once read a short story collection on vampires. So, for whatever reason, I picked up The Kissing Game, by Aidan Chambers. He's an older British fellow who's won several awards, and the back cover copy promised some surprises in the stories.

The stories are undoubtedly well-written, but I didn't like most of the endings. More particularly, I didn't think many of the stories had endings. Chambers himself admits these stories are flash fictions, a somewhat newly popular branch of story that my husband loves and has become adept at writing. With flash fiction, there's no time to develop character. You just need a central idea and a plot that is bigger than itself. In other words, you need to write it in such a way that the reader can infer much of the plot. Many flash fictions have surprise endings, but it isn't necessary. Some of Chambers's stories have surprise endings, and those were probably the most satisfactory to me, even if I didn't particularly like the stories themselves.

The title story was one of the best although the ending is sad; what saves it is the surprising shock value at the end. There was another story I found interesting about a boy with agoraphobia who tries to rescue a Russian girl in the slave trade. I'm just not sure it was a young adult story in a collection of stories for young adults. In fact, readers should be aware that although there is no gratuitous sex or graphicness, many of the stories contain references to casual sexuality, which I did not appreciate. In one, the surprise ending is that the narrator is a girl, and a lesbian at that. She talks about her former girlfriend's new boyfriend the whole story. I simply don't appreciate the emphasis on sexuality in the stories.

Other stories didn't work at all for me. Some were written purely in dialog, talking about nothing of substance that I could tell. They seemed like exercises in writing rather than final pieces. Chambers says that in flash fiction, sometimes the reader has to work as hard as the writer to discover the meaning behind a piece. I think that's kind of interesting, but there has to be some meaning to work with in the first place.

So, I give The Kissing Game: Short Stories only two stars. Unless you are doing research for your own book of short stories, skip this one.

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