The Sampler

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3 Stars

I went into this with zero expectations. It seemed like something I would like and something I could commit to at the time. It started off okay but as I dug into it, it didn’t really do much for me. The title story, The Sampler was alright. It had good pacing and was a smooth ride and had me intrigued by the symbolism of something like eating candy. But my reaction to it was this is okay. Not great but okay.

Oubliette didn’t resolve well for me. Or go well. It was too obvious the protagonist’s mom was trouble. Her brother was also problematic. She had every right to flat out ignore them. And, more importantly, how did she have her mother in the basement for so long and not once ever tell her husband what she was going through? She never explained at all how she was being manipulated even though the older woman couldn’t talk? His reaction at the end made no sense, and it was also his fault she was even in the house to begin with. Everything about how the plot was laid out seemed odd, I was genuinely confused with the ending, not the death, but how everyone reacted. The main character, her husband, the snippets of the brother and how they melded together just felt odd. The only person who stuck true to form was her mother. Otherwise, this felt a bit slow, like it was part of a slow burn novel instead of a short story.

Cessation seemed interesting. I wanted to get into this. I did. It appeared to be going somewhere but even for a short story it took too long to go. I knew what the story was about before reading but I doubt I would’ve picked up on that before the story was almost at its end had I not already known. I spent the first half almost thinking so what does this have to do with the plot. A lot of setup for something so short. The way it suddenly escalated at the end seemed forced. The whole madness of it and unanswered questions about an old lady. There were so many ways this plotline could’ve manifested but this felt over the top in the ending, and way too slow to get there in the beginning.

Sparrows was like the first. It had a good flow. Didn’t seem to drag too much and ended with decent closure. It was just… familiar. More of the same for someone doing a bad thing and receiving their comeuppance. It gave good visuals and good imagery, especially at the end but somehow I couldn’t make myself love it as much as I thought I should’ve. It, like the first, is probably an easy 3stars if it was on its own and not part of a collection.

The Interview. I don’t know what to say about this. Is the hero a serial killer? What are the skills that he has that makes it easy for him to get a job? Why is he even looking for a job? And seeing as he’s murdered before and in the same area why doesn’t he already have a stable job as cover for his double life? Literally everything about this story had me questioning what I was reading and at the end I was just lost. Other than being a monologue for the main character there wasn’t anything tangible in here to let me know exactly what I was reading.

Reasonable People was alright. I did like this one. It was okay. It was more of the same as far as supernatural stories go but I liked the way it unfolded. Even though I was mostly annoyed with how it panned out. The biggest problem here was that it gave me 12 Angry Men mixed with Run Away Jury vibes. It wasn’t different enough to stand out as its own entity. Then the ending monologue seemed a bit much. Almost like the author couldn’t just end it with a quick reveal and had to ‘speech’ the readers on the human condition. It could’ve been said much faster or not at all. It’s a short story a sudden end reveal in this case might’ve worked fine.

Entanglement was a fun read. It was a bit preachy like I found the end of the previous story but overall it was fun to read. The character Bob grounded this story, and it was nice to see how the main character slowly unravelled when he was faced with dealing with a situation he refused to deal with while alive. The pace was good, I don’t remember feeling dragged down anywhere, and I loved how this story just smoothly settled into its end better than any of the previous stories had. Definitely the best-written thing in here because it was the first time I didn’t feel laboured down by one of the stories enough to feel like I was actually stuck in a normal length book taking too long to get to the point. It was completely devoid of that ‘it’s moving too slow’ feeling and I wanted to get to the end. Considering the ones I said had decent flow still had lingering ‘this is taking a bit long’ vibes, it was refreshing this one didn’t.

Smother is another one I wanted to love. I knew where it was going but again, like with reasonable people, the over-talking from the restaurant owner and his connection to the plot was too much. Almost forced like my opinion of Cessation. I couldn’t get into any of his scenes. It was mostly roll-eye inducing for me. Without it/them the story would’ve reached a nice big climactic end. Instead, the author went for a big-twist plot reveal and it just made the main character less lovable. And his boss is dying underneath of him. The insults he’s hurling seemed odd under those circumstances. Like he’s about to die and needs someone to get off him to live with a sore back that is having trouble moving. If anything he should be desperate enough to offer a raise and give the guy his chair back to motivate movement through pain. I don’t know, it was just really hard to get into this the longer I spent reading it.

Crabs in a Bucket was tedious. This is one of those stories where it made me uncomfortable in an awkward I don’t know why this feels weird way. I honestly thought the protagonist of this story had found herself stuck in an assault situation and feared for her. The more I realised I was wrong the less I liked this story. The flashback aspect seemed to slow down the pace instead of enhancing the tension. The message and supernatural twist didn’t land for me cause it just came across as pure evil and unredeemable on the antagonist’s part. The motivations didn’t stick especially with the present victim. Assumptions were made, she did not get to defend herself so the moral complexity of it all was lost because it was an extremely one-sided ordeal. Do I know where the author was going? Definitely. It’s been done before, and the wording made it obvious. The execution, however, wasn’t strong enough to sell that point. More time in the present to actually have him talk with the woman and reveal that she is indeed evil would’ve driven the point home but, from what I was given, she seems your typical human. Def not deserving of sudden judgement that led to an unneeded end. The flashbacks, however, limited this from happening and made this a slow hard haul to the finish.

Overall I always felt like I was being dragged along in the way a full-sized novel does. Considering the length of each story, they weren’t the combination of concise and punchy while also being informative that I expect from a short story. Almost as if they were meant to be longer and fleshed out more than they were. This was felt the most with The Interview as I still don’t know what was going on there. Basically they felt slow which is not the takeaway I expect from a short story as they tend to be punchier and slightly more intense since the author doesn’t have as much time to get to the point as with a normal length novel. The ending result, unfortunately, was a fair bit of confusion and unfulfillment even in the ones I liked which amounted to only three. Two of which were only okay.

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