Everything Is Epic

by Michael C. Keith

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

Short story collections are always a mixed bag; it's their very nature. With the exception of authors like Amy Hempel and Raymond Carver, you very rarely get quality stories throughout. But if you were to layout a collection you should at least attempt to keep some form or theme the way a good music album can.

Everything Is Epic runs the gamut of every type of story from horror/sci-fi to literary character driven stories. A man who exaggerates about everything sees aliens. A father always keeps flashlights for a very dark reason. Nature decides it has had enough and fights back. A young boy finds confidence learning about his ancestors. A son turns violent over Hunter's Pie. A soldier tries to make things right, but only hurts everyone. A doctor experiments with patients with horrifying results. A man attempts to spend eternity with the literary greats. Overly polite behavior has harsh effects. A couple gets a chance encounter with one of The Beatles. These are just some of the stories contained within but a good example how they run.

As I stated above, there is no real reason to collect these stories together other than being written by the same person. The lack of balance left me disoriented reading the collection, which you can take as good or bad. Personally I like to have some underlying theme or structure to collections. At the very least they could have been grouped within the collection:  have all the sci-fi stories together, then character-driven stories, and then horror. Though, as a guess I'd say the stories are laid out this way to distract the reader from some of the weaker ones. 

The flash fiction (less than a thousand words) was definitely the weakest of the bunch. Each short piece had a Richard Matheson-esque twist ending. The problem with making all of your flash fiction end with twists is that you have to use some gimmicks early on to throw the reader off. If you've ever seen the old Twilight Zone you'll see that there is going to be a twist from a mile away. Another problem is most of the twists are random and have no real reason for happening, not to mention being very strained. At the end of each flash piece I found myself mildly annoyed, and quickly forgetting what I just read.

The non-speculative stories are definitely the better end of the bunch but they are nothing to write home about either. I would have preferred to read an entire collection of this type of story. The character development was uneven from story to story. Too much time was devoted to the plots instead of the characters. The best of the bunch was the final story, "Over The Border." It is the story of a writer who gets stuck in a lie and has to keep running with it. It was also the second longest story, which makes me think the others were just rushed through to get to the twist or to qualify for flash fiction.

The last story of the collection shows that the author really has some talent. Besides "Gertrude's Grave" and "Over The Border", the rest of the stories are largely forgettable. Pick it up for those two stories but skip the rest.