Unexpected Places to Fall From, Unexpected Places to Land by Malcolm Devlin
Unsung Stories, P/B, £9.99
Reviewed By Steve Dean
According to the blurb, what we have here is the author’s second collection of short stories. The first one in the book, and the flagship, tells the tale of one Prentis O’Rourke, who dies in various ways across all the known realities. Some of these moments of death form the narrative of the story as we follow his extinction to its inevitable end. As it turns out, there’s an organisation keeping track of all these events across all the different timelines, and it’s they who details the hero’s fall. The premise of this story is quite intriguing and certainly makes you think. It does lose a bit of steam towards the end, but it’s otherwise well-written and entertaining.
Unfortunately, the stories that follow this one don’t live up to the promising start. In fact, the quality and entertainment values fall off a cliff. Call me old-fashioned, but I always think a story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that something must have happened and preferably been resolved during that time. The stories that follow barely qualify as such. They have beginnings, maybe a sketchy middle, and lack any kind of thing recognisable as an end. For the most part, they involve people talking, often about something bland and commonplace, with maybe a hint of something more, then just stop.
As an example, we have Walking to Doggerland, a three-part story about three elderly sisters reuniting in a coastal village. They talk, oh how they talk, for page after page. They find a lost dog that might or might not be from the past. They talk some more and then fade to grey. Nothing happens, nothing is resolved, there’s no conclusion to the plot or for any of the characters. It’s an interminable read, and I was left looking for part four to provide some kind of resolution; I didn’t find it.
The other stories, although mercifully shorter, follow the same pattern.
Overall, although the writing is technically very good, the story element is mostly absent in all but that first story.