21 Tales — Dave Zeltserman

This is a collection of short stories and before you think I’m just bashing it unmercifully, let me say there are a couple of very good stories in here.  The first story in the collection is an example of flash fiction.  It consists of 247 (or 248, not sure) words, it has all the elements of a longer story, and it has an ending that you really don’t see coming.

I think the primary audience for this anthology would be the YA market, or even ‘tweens who are just getting into the horror/noir fiction genre.  For those of us who are older, a little more jaded, a little more cynical and world-weary, there’s not really anything new.

The author has made use of the timeless themes, the devil is in the details, which sociopath is which and a couple of others.  These stories are definitely print-worthy and they have been seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Sci-Fi, both monthly anthology publications.  The problem is to a certain extent you can always see it coming.  It’s like the punch line to a joke you’ve heard many times before in many different incarnations, an elaborate build up to a somewhat trite ending.

Each story has an introduction of some form, usually just a couple of sentences, explaining the author’s motivation, or that the story had been published somewhere along the way.  But in several cases his intro is simply to say, “This isn’t an autobiographical story, and really, my wife is just fine… in case you’re wondering.”  I don’t wonder about such things, unless it comes up.  Fiction is…. fiction, and separating the actor from the action or the author from the characters is one of the first requirements of reading fiction (and watching reality TV).

At best this is pulp fiction in the original sense of the phrase.  Many, many years ago the collection would have been referred to as a nickle book or a dime book, since that’s what you could get it for in the drugstore.  (Seriously, way back in the day.) What it boils down to is that the stories are good, but not that good, original but not that original.  It’s a book you read in the background.  You read it when you forget your current book on the desk, or on the nightstand.  You pick it up read a couple of the stories, and then, since you’ve finished your coffee, you go back to what you were doing without a second thought.  If you did have a second thought, it wouldn’t be about these stories.