Jason Pettus's Reviews > Big Lonesome

Big Lonesome by Jim Ruland
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Feb 02, 2010

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bookshelves: contemporary, stories
Read from February 02 to March 16, 2010

(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Regular readers know that I rarely voluntarily choose to review story collections here, but instead do it only when someone specifically sends me one; 2005's Big Lonesome is one of these, for example, sent by an acquaintance of mine at literary social network Goodreads.com named Jim Ruland, a popular reviewer there who is also a respected member of California's live-event literary community. But unfortunately, reading through it reminded me all over again of why I don't care in general for story collections; and that's because the vast majority of them are just so hit-and-miss when it comes to quality and chapter length, not a unified whole like a novel but rather a random hodgepodge of good and bad, short and long, with each story beginning and ending so quickly that I rarely have a chance to get emotionally invested in any of them. I mean, just take the story "The Previous Adventures of Popeye the Sailor" (inspiration for the book's cover, which is why I'm using it as an example), a six-page narrative which basically has only one joke-like message to convey, that Popeye was actually a mean-spirited bastard because, you know, he was a drunken sailor with anger-management issues. Get it? Well, yeah, I get it, but that's an awfully long way to go simply for a one-trick punchline; and that's the problem I have with story collections in general, that even when one is filled with good material (and Big Lonesome has plenty of good stories, don't get me wrong), you're still forced to wade through all the "Popeye" six-page punchlines to find them, which as a heavy reader I simply find tiring most of the time. Like most story collections, I found this neither particularly great nor particularly terrible, which is why it's getting the middle-of-the-road score today that it is, and why I encourage Ruland to get a full-length novel finished and out there as soon as humanly possible.

Out of 10: 7.5
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