Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review: The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories

When I picked this book up, I knew absolutely nothing about it. It was in a stack of books that I was trying to decide between reading, and I flipped through it to read passages. I was impressed by the language of the book, so I gave it a shot. I was not disappointed!

The Peripatetic Coffin is a collection of short stories by Ethan Rutherford. Each one tells a completely different tale, and in a different style than the others. There are chapters that are humorous, thrilling, depressing, and nostalgic. The thread that binds them all is the author's unique ability to blend humor and fatalism.

Each story features characters whose flaws are ultimately their downfall. In the titular chapter, a group of misfits volunteer to pilot a Confederate submarine. Despite witnessing the deaths of all the crews before them, or perhaps because of this, the group of men take on the impossible challenge. Another story focus on an overzealous camp director whose actions result in the deaths of dozens of campers. Another depicts a marriage that has been destroyed by a bipolar adult son, and the parents' inability to cope with him. The crew of an ill-fated Russian ship, which becomes lodged in ice for a year, is the subject of perhaps my favorite story.

In each of these stories, there is an absurdity that underscores the entire situation that is presented. There is generally only one character, or a small group, that is aware of the insanity; and yet, they cannot bring themselves to do anything about it.

Rutherford's language is beautiful and gripping. He paints a wonderfully bleak picture, tinged with a dark sense of humor that makes it easier to digest. My only criticism is that his characters are not so much an entity unto themselves; rather they are tools to express the author's own point of view. I would love to read an entire novel by Rutherford. I believe the long form would give him time to delve deeper into these characters and explore the conundrums they face.


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