To me, the hardest book reviews to write are the ones where the book is just “meh,” neither one that is super praiseworthy or one that deserves utter scorn. But “meh” is where I am when it comes to Ruth Joffre’s collection of short stories in her book Night Beast.
In Night Beast, Joffre’s characters are caught up in various predicaments including coming in terms with one’s sexual identity, romantic heartbreak, the struggles of parenthood, challenges in the workplace, gut wrenching grief, and all kinds of abuse. And they are depicted using various genres such as sci-fi, fantasy, romance and true to life-some that work, some that don’t.
Some of Joffre’s stories show great promise but are written in a choppy, too short manner. They lack enticing plots, compelling character development and satisfying conclusions (think of bad sex with no orgasm). It’s as if Joffre got bored and decided to stop writing. I wish she would have just left these stories out of her book (or a good editor would have cut them out).
But there are a few stories I found entertaining and quite thought-provoking, showing Joffre’s strength as writer of fiction.
In the opening chapter Nitrate Nocturnes, everyone is outfitted with a timer that counts the exact amount of time in years, days, seconds and so on until they meet their true soul mate. But it is also a future where everything is timed out including death. This story was quite chilling in our day of digital media and technological “advances.” How long before something like this actually happens? I shudder to think!
In Go West and Grow up, Joffre tells a tale of a mother and daughter just trying to survive as they escape an abusive and alcoholic husband and father with very little resources and support. This story really got under my skin, and I hope if Joffre writes another collection of short stories she provides a sequel to Go West and Grow Up or perhaps this could inspire her to write a novel based on this story.
Another punch to the heart is the story I’m Not Asking, which tells the tale of two women coping with the loss of their unborn child and how it affects them as women, lovers and would-be mothers. I’m Not Asking would also make for a good novel.
Joffre is not a bad writer at all. I think she shows great promise and potential. She just needs to keep her fingers to the keyboard to fully shape the stories that are less than satisfying and a kindly editor who can help her round out her writing a bit more. Night Beast may be “meh,” but Joffre has the capability to become truly magnificent.