This collection takes 22 different short stories, told by a range of different characters with very different concerns and beliefs, and slowly weaves them into a wider whole. This review is of the renewed edition.
The stories cover a range of characters, from young children to the elderly, from drug-addicted mothers to unremarkable singletons. Although each narrative is fully immersed in the events of its protagonist, there are some common themes: many of the stories feature how a person might react to receiving a unique message about the world, ranging from believing it to be the voice of God to fighting to regain a perception of sanity; several stories raise the question of whether seeking to perform a task well is good in and of itself, or if hard work is only good if it is also done for a worthwhile purpose.
A few of the stories are very short, and either lack a strong character challenge or leave their arc unfulfilled, so do not stand well on their own. However, when read in the context of the wider narrative they provide both depth and breadth. This dependency makes the collection more suitable to reading in the fashion of a novel rather than dipped in and out of over a longer period.
Although there is this philosophical aspect to the stories, both individually and as a whole, it does not take precedence over the characters and stories themselves, making it something the reader can consider further or leave as merely an aspect of a particular character’s arc.
The characters are fully realised, and are from a range of backgrounds. While some of the characters are strongly Christian or atheist, this often provides them with greater issues than characters of less firm beliefs. Although Sauret is avowedly Christian himself, he also avoids making Christianity the solution: Christians are as likely to achieve only a partial victory as atheists; indeed at least one character who believes they are following a message from God discovers they have been lead astray. Ultimately, each character succeeds or fails due to their response to subjective stimuli and not objective truth.
The collection opens with an introduction from the author, setting out not only how it came to be, but also his objective in assembling the collection. While the statement of purpose is an interesting insight, it does influence a reader’s perception of the more mysterious sections in some of the stories, so would function better if read after the stories.
The introduction also states that the renewed edition removes the more profane but potentially more authentic language that was included in the first edition. In fact, it is only biological swearwords that are replaced with statements that a character cussed; a spattering of theological swearwords are still present, making this collection unsuitable for readers who do not wish any bad language. For readers who can countenance some blasphemy from non-Christians, it serves to highlight the spiritual as one possible response to life.
I enjoyed this collection. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy discovering how even the most insignificant events in a person’s life might have a major impact to someone else.