Monday, July 27, 2015

Dangerous Threads

Review: Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads by S.R. Mallery


Having story ideas, as any writer (or would-be writer) will tell you, is not a problem. Executing those marvelous ideas is what strains the ability of the author. One in a while, an author will challenge her own abilities even further, and elect to write several stories on a theme, kind of like running barefoot. It's possible, but the strain may show. 

I suspect that's what happened here. There is not one story in this collection that isn't a clever idea, and many of them are well-developed. They each include an element of sewing or other craftly creation. And yet the execution is inconsistent.

The title tale, for example, is wonderful: an examination of the fate of two ladies caught in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The dialogue for the protagonist, a young Jewish girl fighting for recognition of her contribution in to her family's survival, and the Irish Catholic girl at the next machine, is real, and rings true with very little in the way of cliché.

Contrast this with the story of a young embroidery artist, Emma, drawn into the conflict between her mistress Lady Buckingham, and her mistress' husband. Buckingham (known as the lover of Queen Anne of France because of Dumas' tale of The Three Musketeers), his wife, and the common-born Emma all speak to each other in bad RenFaire dialogue, which quite spoiled for me what would otherwise have been an outstanding mediæval thriller. 

Between these two extremes, all the other stories fall more or less in the middle. Each is a great idea, but lacks in some trivial or major way from fulfilling its potential. I found myself pulling and restoring stars as I read, depending on my wonder at the brilliant storylines, or my irritation at clichéd dialogue, stereotyped characters, or wooden action.

In the end, I decided to give the whole collection is 3.5 stars, with "Sewing Can Be Dangerous" at 5 stars, and "Emma At Night" at 2. 

Would I read another story collection from this author? Sure! Because even though my inner editor winced at the tinny clashes with what might have been that I found in these pages, I still enjoyed the stories Mallery tells. A lot. 

On second thought, that's worth another half-star.