BookBrowse Reviews November Storm by Robert Oldshue

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November Storm

Iowa Short Fiction Award

by Robert Oldshue

November Storm by Robert Oldshue X
November Storm by Robert Oldshue
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Oct 2016, 140 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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A November storm is one that comes early in the season. If it catches people off-guard, it can change them in the ways Oldshue's characters are changed by different but equally surprising storms.

"In each of the stories in Robert Oldshue's debut collection, the characters want to be decent but find that hard to define," says the Iowa University Press of November Storm, winner of the 2016 Iowa Short Fiction award. And this is a good assessment of what connects each of these stories; what makes them almost feel, together, like a novel. At the same time, each of them is also very different, bringing forth as many aspects of this idea of decency as possible. This is the first thing that makes this book commendable.

However, more important than content and theme is Oldshue's ability to master the short story form, which can be difficult to accomplish. On the one hand, Oldshue's style rambles along, going off on what seem like tangents and getting overly involved in back stories. However, even with these digressions, he beautifully succeeds in bringing the stories back together to get to his main point. Mind you, his final lines often feel a tad on the mysterious side but, with just a moment's thought, the reader gets his point. That is the most magical part of these stories – those last lines. (Okay, I know, some people will think that's cliché, but seriously, if you think about it, when done just right, that punch at the end can be amazing.)

Combine this technique with a very casual voice and everyday language that Oldshue employs in each of his stories, and you get an anthology of tales that speak to the very heart of every reader. Finally, I was also impressed with how he successfully takes on both male and female protagonists' voices so naturally. I was particularly impressed by his portrayal of a 12-year-old girl preparing to become a Bat Mitzvah in "The Woman on the Road." (See Beyond the Book.) One of my pet peeves is when writers depict children of that age as being either overtly precocious or blatantly childish, rendering them unrealistic. Oldshue doesn't fall into that trap at all.

This isn't to say that this book is perfect, because it isn't – but it does come quite close. I'd say the only problem I had with November Storm is that two of the stories weren't of quite the same quality as the others. I felt that "Fergus B. Fergus," didn't really make the point that Oldshue was trying to achieve, and it rambled an extra bit too much. And I think he could have cut some of the back-story out of "Summer Friend," making the overall narrative more effective. These being my only criticisms, I can still warmly recommend this collection and give it a strong four stars out of five.

Reviewed by Davida Chazan

This review is from the November 2, 2016 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Bat Mitzvah

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