Edition 25: Book Review: Everything is Fine by Grant Stone
Reviewed by Lee Murray
I’ve edited some of Grant Stone’s work, appeared with him in a few anthologies, and seen him pick up a couple of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Awards for science fiction and fantasy writing. So, when I saw he’d released this collection of stories and poems, I one-clicked immediately. Any book of Grant Stone’s is going to be a treat and Everything is Fine, a collection pulling together some of his best work, doesn’t disappoint.
In his introduction to the collection, Matthew Sanborn Smith says that Stone’s work has “seen the bottom of the mud bog called Suburbia, the spouse the kids, the pets the job, and taking out the garbage, the trying to squeeze the real life in around this structure we’ve all built together, and its characters are grounded in it.” Sanborn Smith goes a step further ‒ I can almost hear him whisper from behind his hand ‒ when he reveals that Stone’s normal people can be ‘as scary as shit’. I have to agree.
One thing that strikes me about Stone’s style is his conciseness. The precision. On point imagery. There are ‘lures sparkling like fresh rain’, ‘Andy fumbling with his laces, gritting his teeth against the glass in his fingers’, an ‘ill-tended garden’, and ‘a single light hanging from the ceiling, tassels shimmering under its pink shade’. Images like these occur on every page, observations of the everyday that hit the spot like cold beer on a warm afternoon.
It’s difficult to review a collection without giving away too many spoilers, but there are always some stories which resonate for some reason, touching that part of us that says, “Hey, I know that feeling” or “I never knew anyone else experienced that”. Young Love on the Run from the Federal Alien Administration New Mexico Division and Coat are two such stories, even accepting that the title of the former would compel any reader to cut to that story first. Both tales are desolate and aching, speculative declarations of love which transcend time and space. Call me a romantic; I loved these because isn’t that the kind of love we all strive for? Something more than mundane? Something that is simply more?
Kiwi-born myself, I wasn’t surprised to find a story like Better Phones in the collection. Down here at the bottom of the world, we affectionately call the islands Godzone or God’s own country, paradise. My dad used to say that from our home in Tauranga, heaven was a local call. Stone’s Better Phones explores that very concept, injecting his own stark realism and highlighting the quotidian of our connections with those no longer with us. Everything is Fine is worth the cover price for this story alone.
Wood is a fairy story; the tale of an ambitious puppeteer; it has echoes of Macbeth and is just as macabre. The Salt Line is a quietly reflective story of loss and grief.
And then there are the poems. Stark and to the point. In just a hundred words or so Dead Air will chill you to the core with its simplicity and veracity. No blood spatter, no viscera, just a wisp of cold that seeps to the bone.
While Stone’s readers may have already enjoyed some of the previously published stories, is it is a pleasure to see them brought together in a single collection. Capturing the seductive and the nostalgic but with a modern twist, Everything is Fine is highly recommended for anyone who’s ever been interested in well-crafted short speculative fiction.
Everything is Fine, by Grant Stone
Fantasy – Anthology
Publisher: Racket House, 2016
ISBN: 13: 978-0-473-33323-2
A multi-award winning writer and editor, Lee Murray likes coffee, dim sum, and walks on the beach. Her latest title, Into the Mist, is currently on pre-order from Cohesion Press. http://www.amazon.com/Into-Mist-Lee-Murray-ebook/dp/B01BURAEIO