Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review: "The Hero of Blind Pig Island ..." (Jimmy Olsen)

Short story collections rarely seem to receive attention, let alone accolades, in the literary community these days. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that many readers remember being force-fed short stories (Hawthorne, Poe, Chandler, all of whom wrote or write brilliantly) during grade school English classes and just can't bring themselves to pick up another now, as adults.

That's a tremendous shame, because such readers will assuredly miss excellent contemporary works by talented authors.

A fantastic story collection by an equally gifted author is The Hero of Blind Pig Island and Other Island Stories by Jimmy Olsen.




Olsen offers twelve short stories, including the award-winning "Wormwood," each with some connection to water or ocean or the Caribbean islands threading them together in a well-planned compilation. Genres represented range from romance to suspense, many with well-researched cultural contexts, such as "Sea Salt," about a young boy whose elderly mentor works to prize salt crystals from evaporated ocean water.

The stories also represent a wide continuum of tones and voices, some more serious and weighty than others, but most with either outright humor or an undercurrent of wry wit. "Party Girl," for instance, the first short in the collection, takes a tone of dry wit toward its contents but ends more poignantly than might be expected, according to Olsen's masterful writing style.

On the other hand, "Wet Passage," one of the weightier stories, has glances of humor, but its tone is decidedly opposite that of "Party Girl" --- far more focused, serious, and even darkly ironic.

Olsen's style vacillates from simple and straightforward, as in the short story "Denise," about a young woman told from the perspective of her first dive master, to almost literary, especially in its descriptions of the island settings, described with such detailed care that it's obvious Olsen has experienced each setting personally.

One sample of the evocative descriptions comes from "The Hero of Blind Pig Island," the short story that gives the collection its name: "Dark heavy mountains f cloud rose from the far end of the lake, towering into the summer sky, white tops swelling against the blue. Below, in their dark bellies, flashes of lightening [sic] brought them to life, storybook dragons born in a treacherous sky" (117).

Olsen writes with such straightforward honesty and precision that it's no surprise he's had a long career in the writing industry. I turned pages with delighted expectation, eager to see what new twist or unexpected characters would come next. 

It takes a great deal to write a masterful short story, to fit all the traditional standards of long fiction (plot, tone, diction, voice, character development, setting, theme) into a few thousand words. Jimmy Olsen's collection is a gem among its peers, published in the last ten years, and I am both gratified and honored to have been able to read and review the compilation.

I cannot recommend The Hero of Blind Pig Island and Other Island Stories highly enough, for its unique premises, lush and exotic (in every sense of the word) cast of characters, and compelling style. Olsen offers a truly worthwhile escape into an island-themed other world peopled with missionaries, party-goers, children, lovers, teachers, dive masters, and more.


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Title: The Hero of Blind Pig Island and Other Island Stories
Author: Jimmy Olsen
ISBN: 978-0-9801835-6-6
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/134EO1C


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this collection free from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinion I have expressed are my own.

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