This collection of short stories by Charles Hibbard is thought-provoking, varied and beautifully written. And if short stories aren’t really your thing – although in this case I would urge you to make an exception - the author has a number of other longer-form fictions available on Smashwords (discussed briefly below).
But getting back to “The Inelegant Universe,” what can you expect from this collection? Well, here are some examples to give you a flavour:
- “Fare Evader”: David
attempts to get his girlfriend’s sick cat to the vet, running the gauntlet of
the San Francisco metro in the process.
- “Baking Day”: Chuck
pulls a sickie but ends up being hospitalised after cutting his arm. It was just an accident of course, a lot of
fuss about nothing and definitely not a sign of anything more serious. Or is it?
- “Rest Area”: Ruth
agrees to look after another woman’s purse as the latter goes for a walk at a
cliff-top toilet stop in the Sierra Nevada.
But when the woman fails to return, she begins to fear the worst.
- “1944”: a
soldier, behind enemy lines, hides up a tree to evade German troops.
- “Birefringence”: two hikers have a heated argument as they
collect calcite crystals in the mountains.
I particularly liked the way that many of the stories manage
to combine relatively mundane events (e.g. dinner parties, visiting an elderly
parent in a nursing home) with larger, more abstract ideas – these range from string
theory (“The Inelegant Universe”) through to evolution (“Archaeopteryx”) and
conflicting views of the relationship between order/meaning and
That might make the stories sound heavy-going and potentially somewhat contrived – but whilst the universe may be inelegant, the marrying up of these ideas with the subject matter is beautifully done and never feels artificial. And there was always enough in the way of plot/character to draw the reader in and no shortage of humour.
Anyway, on the strength of this collection, I went on to
read two more of Charles Hibbard’s books on Smashwords, both of which I’d also
“A Burned Over District” is a novel about a small town in the Sierra Nevada which becomes gripped by speculation over the origin of mysterious lights in the sky on Christmas Eve. I liked the colourful collection of characters and sense of place, which reminded me (a little) of Garrison Keillor (only minus lots of Lutherans and the Mid-West location) – not entirely convinced that the plot quite delivered in the end, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of it.
“Retirement Projects” is a novella-length comedy about a retired schoolteacher, a slightly sinister ex-cop and knitting (what is it with me and stories about knitting?). I enjoyed that too – just not quite as much as the stories in “The Inelegant Universe.”
Finally, my thanks to Bernard Fancher for drawing my
attention to this author, as I had missed his work on my trawls through Smashwords
in search of hidden treasure.
Posted by Paul Samael. Posted In : Book reviews