I had another review copy of a short story collection from ChiZine Publications, “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” by Helen Marshall, that I had been wanting to dig into and finally found the time to work it in. Knowing the high quality of short stories that I have read in the past from ChiZine’s collections and anthologies, I had high hopes for this book when I started it.
So does “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” live up to my expectations for a ChiZine short story collection? The answer is yes. While I did not love every story in this collection, it is a very strong collection and all of the stories are well written and interesting. Marshall has a way of writing a story that appears to be fairly simple but that has different layers of meaning. Many can be read quickly for pure entertainment but the real meat of the story is only realized upon reflection. Looking at some of the stories in the collection serves to illustrate the brilliance of Marshall’s writing.
A great example of this is “Supply Limited, Act Now” which is the tale of a boy who mail orders a miniature dog. When the dog does not arrive, supporting the belief of the boy’s friends that it was nothing but a scam, the company responds that the boy should keep hope that the dog that was lost in the mail will eventually find its way home to him. The boy does just that even though no one else will believe him. Then his friends stumble upon a stunning discovery and the fun really begins. This story can be read as a fairly straightforward tale of the fantastic such as one that would have been found in a comic book years ago but there is more there as well. The themes of why people do the things that they do and the power of hope as well as the wonder of discovery fill this short story. It is neither a simple tale of the strange nor a complex coming of age story. It is actually both.
My favorite story in the collection is “The Zhanell Adler Brass Spyglass.” In this story, a child is given a spyglass by his father that can see into the past and he uses it to try and figure out what went wrong in the life of his parents. This is a story that is an interesting take on childhood curiosity but it goes much deeper than that as it also delves into the search for the truth of one’s existence as well as an examination of what shapes the life of a person. The boy uses the spyglass out of child-like curiosity as he approaches the transition to adulthood but also as a means to examine his past and come to grips with the events that have shaped his life. “The Zhanell Adler Brass Spyglass” is a very well written and thoughtful story that further illustrates the power of the stories found in this collection.
“Gifts for the One Who Comes After” is a very strong short story collection as the two stories above illustrate and that is only the tip of the iceberg. In the collection, Marshall touches upon many different themes that speak to the human condition as well as entertain and stimulate the mind. Marshall is clearly a master of the short story and this collection is a testament to her talent.
I would like to thank ChiZine Publications and NetGalley for this review copy. “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” is available now.