Collections such as this one are notoriously difficult to review. They feature numerous pieces of work, by a variety of authors, many of whom you may never have heard of, with no style or subject matter to mould the stories together. Past experience suggests that there will a be a couple of stand-out stories, a lot that fail to engender any strong feelings, and at least a couple that you hate. And all that is, of course, dependant on the reviewer’s own particular tastes.
Encouragingly, Unthology No. 3 is the first anthology I’ve read in which there wasn’t a single story I despised. There were a few that weren’t to my taste, but even as I read them I was thinking of people I know that would’ve loved them. There were a lot that I enjoyed reading, but that didn’t blow my mind. But then, there were seven truly outstanding stories; stories that had me gripped and entertained from start to finish, making me rush to my computer after each, searching for more work by the authors, following them on Twitter, and generally being an author stalker for longer than is probably acceptable. And I have no doubt that another reader could have picked seven different stories to the ones that so enthralled me.
To be fair, I had an inkling I was going to enjoy the collection as soon as I finished the three-page long introduction. More than an introduction, it’s a semi-rant against the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, a lament to a reading public that neglects an abundance of fantastic short story writers, whilst fawning over Twilight fan fiction with a bit of added sex, and a frank admission that the rant is tinged with a hint of bitter jealously. There was a lot I agreed with in these opening pages. An immediate affinity with the collection was created. And the stories did not disappoint.
I won’t go through every story. That would be boring for all of us, and I wouldn’t want to ruin the impact of a collection that surprises with its eagerness to switch between genres and styles with almost every story. But I will quickly discuss the three stories that most stood out for me. Sandra Jensen’s ‘So Long Marianne’ is an eight page tale which pulls the reader through the various emotions of a person considering whether or not to assist a friend with their suicide. That may sound slightly depressing, but Jensen manages to weave plenty of humour and irony in there, whilst also having a little dig at the ease of access that the internet provides to modern day society. Sarah Dobbs’s ‘Hachiko’ occurs in a Japan recovering from the recent tsunami. The protagonist is a young man whose girlfriend was working in the Fukushima Nuclear Plant that was at the centre of the natural disaster, and the story unfolds as he considers a recent adulterous tryst whilst he waits to hear news of her safety. This story plays with ideas of guilt and grief, and highlights the way feelings for a person can alter when it seems they have suddenly been taken away. Finally, there’s ‘Before the Song’ by Angela Readman. In a voice reminiscent of some of Annie Proulx and Cormac McCarthy’s characters, Readman takes us through the thoughts of several members of the same family as they consider the death of a local youth. This was probably the standout story for me, as the subtle hints and twists force you onwards to a quiet but devastating conclusion.
Any Cop?: I’ll be surprised if I read a better anthology all year.The editors suggested a showcase of short story writing talent in their introduction, and they did not let us down. It’s a shame they can’t figure out a way to get this kind of writing the same attention as Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s certainly more deserving.