Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review of "The Carnival" by Lisa McCourt Hollar

Since Lisa took the time to read and review my novella "Dogs of War", I figured turn around was fair play and decided to review her most recent short story "The Carnival".

Now, in my opinion, reviewing short stories is a lot harder than reviewing a novel, for several reasons.  First, you can not discuss the plot in depth because you would essentially be giving away the whole story.  Why read it if you already know how it ends?  And second, and more importantly, is the difference in construction and purpose.  This is only my opinion, but I have always felt that, in novels, the characters must be fleshed out first and foremost, and then the story happens around them.  Hell, if your characters are given enough life, sometimes they dictate the path of the story and change the author's original intentions.  But with short stories, the story must come first, with the characters fitted in almost like puzzle pieces, given just enough life to carry the purpose of the story forward.  When I read a novel, I want to know the people inside and out.  When I read a short story, I just want to be entertained and taken on a roller coaster ride for fifteen minutes.

Anyway, back to "The Carnival".  It is around 7,000 words, I think.  I didn't count.  The story begins at, you guessed it, a carnival.  But not a normal carnival, as indicated by the names of some of the rides there.  We're given a brief history of the main character, Lucy, which explains how and why she ends up at the carnival that night.  Lucy is led by a clown to an area behind the scenes where she thinks she is going to be meeting her boyfriend, Thomas.  Thomas is there, but not for the reason Lucy suspects, and from the moment she lays eyes on him, everything begins to fall apart as the nature and intent of the carnival and the people who run it is revealed.  And that's all I'm going to say because I don't want to ruin it.

I read "The Carnival" in a single sitting, which you should want to do with a short story if it grabs you the right way.  You realize what is going on about half way through the story, but its disturbing enough that you just want to know how it ends.  And the ending is... well, it ends the only way it could.  Too often the endings of short stories seem strained and almost forced, but not here.  Lisa successfully carries the story to its only logical conclusion, and I felt satisfied.

I'm really torn over one aspect, and this is a personal decision of a writer.  Remember, in short stories, every word must have purpose.  There is no room for wasted words.  Part of me feels that the end of the story could have been expanded.  Characters are brought in for a cameo and then forgotten because their fate is not integral to the story.  But since they've been introduced and they are there for a purpose, well, their fate could have been explored.  But the other part of me says, hey, they were window dressing, not that important, it doesn't matter what happened to them.  Their fate is not really relevant to the impact of the story, why waste the time.  You'll have to decide for yourself how you feel.

As for gore, well, the story is gory towards the end but not too much so.  I could eat while reading it.

So all in all, I'll give it five stars out of five because it did what it was designed to do.  Grab you, keep you enthralled for twenty minutes, and then let you go feeling satisfied.  A little disturbed, but satisfied.  If you are a fan of horror and looking for fun read that, thankfully, doesn't include a single zombie or vampire, pick it up.  You may even want to read it twice.

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