Friday, January 6, 2012

In an Uncharted Country / Clifford Garstang

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Literary Fiction/Short Story

Approximate word count: 75-80,000 words

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YES UK: YES Nook: YES Smashwords: NO Paper: YES
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A native of the Midwest, Clifford Garstang is a lifelong student (I count four graduate degrees in his official bio including a law degree and an MFA in Creative Writing). He has worked as an attorney for the World Bank and a Peace Corps Volunteer. His writing has appeared in many of the top literary magazines.


A collection of twelve short stories which are linked, in that they all take place in the fictional small town of Rugglesville, VA, with some characters and events taking place in one story being referenced in another.


I’ve read a few linked short story collections in the past. Some were very good and others, not so much. As I looked back at what qualities made the difference, I realized that it could be illustrated using what is called “coupling” in computer science. (The computer geeks can read the Wikipedia entry, for others I’ll give my higher-level definition.) In simple terms, coupling is low if different modules or sections of a computer program mostly stand alone with a minimum number of links to other sections. Generally, low coupling is good, high coupling bad.

Those linked short story collections I didn’t like had too many things linking any one module (or story in this case) to many others. The stories were all clearly happening in the same short period, shared many of the same events and characters. In the worst cases, the reader ends up feeling as if they are reading a poorly structured novel with too many points of view.

In contrast, In an Uncharted Country has few linkages between the stories. A minor character in one is sometimes the main character in another. One story might reference a past event detailed in another story earlier in the volume. But each story stands alone with just enough links from one story to another to give the reader a little more knowledge about the current happenings. As knowledge and different perspectives accumulate, the reader immerses himself into the fictional town of Rugglesville, VA (where all the stories take place) and gets to know the people of the town a little better. By the time you finish the final story, you’ll feel like an honorary Rugglevillian.


Some adult language and situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five stars

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