"Going Out in Style" by Daniel Kelley
In Daniel Kelley's collection of six short stories, he investigates things coming to an end from various perspectives. While often one thinks of finishing something as being sad, not all of these stories visit the darker sides of this, and that is one reason why this collection is so interesting. The stories we are given here are entitled:
- Bathtub Ripples
- Getting to Know You
- Thinking Back
- Doing it All
- A Child's Game
Of course, none of these titles give away much, but trust me, once you read them, you'll understand them completely. What is most fascinating about these stories is how very differently they each look at this subject, and yet how easily they fit together as a whole. For instance, the gentleness that turns to despair in Bathtub Ripples is beautifully balanced by the dejection that turns to hope in A Child's Game. With Thinking Back, we actually get the story in reverse. Here, the shocking news of Saturday becomes slowly understood as we work our way backwards through the events of each previous day until we learn what happened on Wednesday. Kelley's musical background comes out with the opening story, Performer, while his literary background comes to the fore in Getting to Know You. It's no wonder that these two stories feel like he lived through them personally, but he is just as convincingly realistic when his protagonist is a woman.
As I read these tales, it occurred to me that the artistry in writing good short stories is highly underrated (despite the latest Nobel Prize for Literature going to a short story writer). People generally think of short fiction as being the practice format for the job of attacking a "real" writing project - meaning, a full-blown novel. But the truth is that a carefully crafted short story is truly a thing of beauty. The ability to get fully formed characters, plots and action combined with the perfect impact into just a thousand or so words is no small feat. But Kelley does so with each and every one of these pieces. What's more, he does it with a style that feels like he's writing it with twinkle in his eye and a small smirk rising from one corner of his mouth. In fact, if I ever attempt to write fiction, this is the way I want my stories to sound - slightly irreverent with just a touch of humor.
If asked which of these stories my favorite was, I'd be hard pressed to find an appropriate answer. Because of my personal musical background, I can say that the opening story Performer is one I quickly identified with, but my literary background made me equally relate to Getting to Know You. On the other hand, if I was required to point out which story was my least favorite, I'd have to answer "none".
Kelley's talent makes each story fully rounded and complete, with believable, sympathetic characters we can identify with and plots that hold our interest. By using a common theme, there is also a cohesive feel to this collection, rather than just a bunch of stories thrown together. This is what makes Daniel Kelly's "Going Out in Style" such a successful collection. For all this, I could find no faults so I can't give it any less than five out of five stars, and highly recommend it.