Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How Many Ways Can You "Go Out in Style"?

Going Out in Style by Daniel Kelley is a collection of six short stories, each centred around the title theme, 'Going Out in Style', whether for better or worse. There are various directions and meanings one phrase can have and six of them are explored in these stories.

In the first, 'Performer', Thomas L. Blatten is being 'let go' from the Philharmonic Orchestra he's been with for 42 years.

First Sentence:

"A man shouldn't have to read his own obituary."

Playing fourth chair French horn was not something he saw himself doing for so long, but when he won the job all those years ago, he couldn't be bothered to go through it all again and 'got stuck'. 

At 65, he wonders what's in store for him now. What does his future hold? As his final concert plays, he criticises aspects of his life and the people in it, all with a cynical flair. He relives moments of his life, getting this job, meeting his wife, his children and ponders the future with a bleak, monotone voice.

But Thomas has a plan for his final performance. He intends to be remembered. 

In 'Bathtub Ripples', 37-year-old Andie is running herself a bath, enjoying the luxurious sensations and the joy it brings. 

First Sentence:

"The bathtub was almost ready, the flow from the old brass faucet now churning deeply into water instead of splashing onto cold porcelain."

As the story progresses, her mind turns to the past. Her failed relationships and her childhood up to the life she now leads. What starts off as a light story about simple pleasures, takes a darker turn.

The third story, 'Getting to Know You', finds an author on a book tour. 

First Sentence:

"I had finished my reading, my talk, and then the question-and-answer session, the most harrowing segment of the three."

All he wants is for it to be over so he can go home. He's uncomfortable in public and around people in general, so distances himself with arrogance and vanity. 

After the final signing, a woman approaches him on the street as he waits for the valet to bring his car round. She claims to be a fan, but his demeanour instantly causes problems. But her wit is a match of his own and she refuses to back down. 

Fascinated and terrified by this brazen woman, with no qualms about giving him a piece of her mind, he begins to open up. This only leads to further intrigue, as revealing anything about himself is an incredibly rare event. Does he want that to change?

'Thinking Back' is a story that tells exactly the way its title would imply. 

First Sentence:

"A man rode by me on a bicycle."

Beginning on a Saturday, it works backwards to Wednesday, revealing the answers in its wake. 

Maddie and her husband Dave are enjoying some family time with their two children, when the police knock on their door. One of their neighbours, a good friend of theirs, is dead. Murdered. A few quick questions and the policewoman asks them to get in touch if they remember anything that could help with the case. 

As the days rewind, the 'who' and the 'why' take form and the inevitable truth comes out. 

In the penultimate story, 'Doing It All', we meet Simon Oddgrove.

First Sentence:

"Simon Oddgrove was lying on his bed, thinking."

A very 'go with the flow' kind of man, he's never put too much thought into anything. Decisions are something he doesn't do, preferring to leave it to chance or someone else.

Growing up close to his Aunt Nettie, she is the relative he stays in touch with most frequently. When he was younger, she labelled him 'a boy of potential', something he has never forgotten. In the past, she has met exactly three of his girlfriends, two of which ended the relationship shortly after. The third, Etheline, is his current girlfriend and his aunt and her get along peachy. 

But Simon hasn't been returning either of their calls. He's been forced to make a decision and is unsure of what to do. Having never made a decision in his life, this is too much for him to handle. So he shuts himself off from the world and lies on his bed, thinking.

The final story is 'A Child's Game'. 

First Sentence:

"It had taken nearly an hour and a half, but I'd found it."

It tells the story of Janice and her complicated love-triangle, built from lies and false promises. She finally understands the reality and is looking for closure. All it takes is a little paper and some scissors. 

An enjoyable set of stories, with some similar plots, but each with their own individuality, while still maintaining the connection to the others. The emotions range from heartwarming to heartbreaking and a lot of the stories centre around regrets and how people react to them, deal with them or don't. 

Each story is broken up into sections, often three, much like a script. Act One, Act Two and Act Three and (as is tradition) a little more is revealed in each part. It's an interesting style to incorporate into a short story, but it works very well. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this short book. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be 'Bathtub Ripples'. The description of the perfect bath is fantastic and the direction the story takes is a perfect mix of chilling, uncomfortable and inevitable bittersweetness. I found myself cringing with the description and naively hoping for an alternate outcome. All this in eight (Kindle) pages. 

With five other stories, there's bound to be at least one, if not more, for everyone. 

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

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