~by Ron MacLean
Why the Long Face? by Ron MacLean is the seventh book I have been privileged to receive and review through the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing. Recently I have been asked to read and review several short story collections. This has been a nice change of pace for me since I don't tend to gravitate towards short fiction. Why the Long Face? is the second book of MacLean's to be published, the first being his novel Blue Winnetka Skies. Swank Books, "dedicated to the spread of independent fiction," is responsible for the publication of both his novel and this particular collection of some of MacLean's shorter works.
With a few exceptions, the fifteen stories in this collection tend to be short on plot, but usually make up for it in characterization. The themes range from father and daughter relationships (which actually both begins and ends the book), to medical mysteries, to the meaning of art, and to all sorts of things in between, both expected and not. A few selections verge on being incomprehensible, but most make some sort of sense, only it may be an odd sort of sense. The collection is a nice mix of traditional storytelling and more experimental efforts.
Nine of the fifteen stories included in the book previously appeared in a variety of other publications while the remaining six are published for the fist time in this collection. I was slightly confused that the table of contents divided the stories into three groups of five for no apparent reason, thematic or otherwise. Every story is just a bit quirky, some exceedingly more so than others, and as a result the book is a rather eclectic mix in subject and style. As with many short story collections, I really liked some of them while I didn't care much for some of the others. But, overall, it was an enjoyable book and I think just about any reader would be able to find at least one story they can appreciate.
The stories in Why the Long Face? weren't nearly as strange or surreal as I was expecting them to be, with a few notable exceptions. Granted, those elements can still be found fairly easily in many of the stories, but I wouldn't say that they are the predominating characteristics. The best word I can come up with to describe the stories and the collection as a whole is "interesting." They are very smart, sometimes overly so, and offer a glimpse into the minds of MacLean's slightly peculiar but very human characters. Overall, an enjoyable collection.
Stories include: "Aerialist"; "Las Vegas Wedding, Or, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Meets Gertrude Stein at the Luxor"; "South of Why"; "Dr. Bliss and the Library of Toast"; "Strange Trajectory: A Story of Phineas Gage"; "Where Morning Finds You"; "Figure with Meat"; "Between the Bar and the Telephone Booth"; "Why I'm Laughing"; "The Encyclopedia of (Almost) All the Knowledge in the World" (previously published as "What Liebniz Didn't Know"); "Over the Falls"; "Mile Marker 283"; "terror/home"; "Last Seen, Hank's Grille"; and "Symbiosis."