Feb. 11th, 2014

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A while ago I read All This And Love by J. Libby, a collection of self-published short stories.

I feel the need to start this review by confessing that J. Libby is a friend of mine. I don’t often read short stories, so I might never have found this book if not for our friendship. That said, hopefully this review inspires more people to read All This and Love than may otherwise have done so.

One of the reasons I don’t often read short stories is that it takes me a while to enter a world, but when I do I enter it fully. By the time I’m done with a really good short story, I just want more. To some extent, the stories in All This and Love have this quality, but on the whole the stories worked better for me than most short stories do.

The stories in All This and Love fall into two categories. The first category is stories with language so rich and dense that I feel like the point is the language itself, the feeling and themes that thrum through the words. When I read a poem, I rarely get upset that it’s over, not because I don’t like poems but rather because poems are less like stories and more like thoughts or ideas. They’re wisps of worlds, like dreams, and the point is that you can never enter them, they’re like dreams. 'like the girls in the movies' and 'fallen: a love story' read like poems to me—I don’t really want more or less. I just want that beautiful thing to exist in the world. Even though it’s the shortest, like the girls in the movies is probably my favorite story of the book. It reads just like prose poetry.

My favorite thing about Libby as a writer has always been her use of language and way with words. Even though the other stories are less like poems, they still resonate like poetry in some ways, especially this, too, like water and memory. That story, as well as the two remaining stories ('to the water and the wild', 'all of this and love') are more “stories” in the traditional sense of the word, with a bit more to latch on to in terms of plot and character. What worked for me in these stories, however, was the world-building. I finally understood that the point of a short story is to enter the world, whereas the point of a novel isn’t so much entering the world as traveling in the world. At any rate, these stories felt like doorways—peeks into other universes. Although I did want more, I found the glimpses interesting.

Libby’s other strength is theme. These stories are thematically linked by love, fantasy, and horror. I particularly enjoyed the horror aspect, even though I’m not a horror fan. There is traditional horror—one story has zombies, another werewolves—but what I enjoyed most was the gradual creep factor, the building sense of wrong Libby manages to create as several of these stories build toward climax.

Although I helped edit many of these stories myself, this book could still have used another good solid edit. And while I enjoyed these stories as they are, I still wish I knew more about some of these worlds and characters. However, on the whole, I'm glad I read this book because I enjoyed it. Above and beyond everything else, reading this language is like eating rich chocolate.

A-

Do recommend.

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