Title: Red Caps
Author: Steve Berman
Publisher: Lethe Press
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Red Caps might be a rock band. Or they might be something more sinister, a fey source of sounds that are but the backdrop to thrills and misadventures. These thirteen stories provide readers jaded by the traditional, Old World fairy tales with tempting new stories that will entice bored readers from their suburban ennui. Closets are waiting to be explored. Escape from work camp leads to a dangerous encounter on a wet road. That high school year book is magical and might be mocking you…or helping you find love. And isn’t love one of the central premises of the fairy tale? These teenage boys and girls need not fear that their love has no worth, because Steve Berman has written for them princesses who love maidens and adorkable students who have wondrous and smart boyfriends. Readers can be assured that, if the tale does not end happy, it ends most memorably.
I’m not normally a big fan of short stories—merely because they’re short. They hook you and drop you. So, I started on Steve Berman’s “Red Caps” (New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers) with some hesitation.
I’m so glad I had to read this—it’s a first-rate collection of first-rate stories by a man who knows his way around a keyboard. I liked some better than others (obviously), but there was not a clinker in the bunch.
First, I love that many of these books are set in New Jersey. Steve lives in southern New Jersey, near Philadelphia; I live in northern New Jersey, near New York. I love New Jersey with all the frustration of a parent who loves his slightly misfit child. So he sort of had me when he set his first tale “The Harvestbuck” in the Pine Barrens.
Secondly, the stories have all of the best qualities of his novel “Vintage: A Ghost Story.” Berman captures a mature teenage voice in his writing. Everything in this anthology is, I suppose, young adult, but there is nothing juvenile or simplistic about his writing. Each of these stories deals with youthful yearning and struggles for self-identity, whether realistically set, as in “Most Likely” and “Cruel Movember,” or in the much more fairy-tale like context of a story such as the “Thimbleriggery and Fledglings.”
As in “Vintage: A Ghost Story,” many of Berman’s stories carry a paranormal edge. “All Smiles” is wonderfully sudden in its shift from real to surreal, and for all its abruptness, was satisfying in its oblique completeness. “Worse than Alligators” creeped me out entirely, a Twilight-Zone-worthy entry that ends more darkly than any other in the book. “Steeped in Debt to the Chimney Pots” is a sort of gay fantasy take on Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” which hooked me with its world-building and grubby detail.
Every one of these stories is distinct in its narrative and its setting—but they share consistently strong main characters, male and female, who earn our sympathy, if not always our affection. And, for all the varied settings and degrees of realism, every story is full of good writing—like this snippet from “Most Likely:”
“Roque turned to all the various student clubs and activities, where the unpopular kids banded together for mutual understanding if not protection and the school’s darlings gathered in shallow pools to reinforce their saturated popularity.”
Even if you resist anthologies, give this one a read. There is variety and spice and romance and light and dark in these pages, a most satisfying mélange.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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