Review: ‘Oops!’ by Darrell Bain

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Title: Oops!  Darrell Bain’s Latest Collection of Short Stories

Author: Darrell Bain

Published: LL-Publications, 2010, pp. 207

Genre: Short stories

Blurb: Oops! is the third collection of stories by Darrell Bain.  When Cupid and a Gremlin bump heads, the sparks fly in a rare fantasy story by the author.  Other stories in the collection include A Simple Idea, and almost ludicrously simple method of eliminating corruption and idiocy from the political process, one that has been around for centuries but gone unrecognized.  Cure for an Ailing Alien finds a nurse who must come up with a cure for an alien, one whose bodily processes are completely unknown.  You’ll be amazed at her cure!  Retribution is the story of unexpected consequences when alien meets human.  Robyn’s Rock is partially based on a happening in the author’s life during a walk with his granddaughter.

There are many more stories in this collection, all written in the individual style that has kept Bain’s readers coming back for more for the past twenty years.  This is a book to add to your collection, stories by a notable, multi-award winning author.

When, where and why: I was sent a copy of this book to review as part of the Goodreads First Reads programme.  I requested it because I enjoy short story collections and the description made this one sound different and intriguing.  I started it at once, as I think it’s only polite to do so when sent a free book.

What I thought:Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I always have very high expectations of short story collections.  The short story is, in my opinion, one of the hardest forms to write because of the restrictions they impose on the author.  In a novel, there can be passages which aren’t as good, and I might forgive a poorly developed story if the characters are fascinating and come alive, or vice versa.  The novel is long enough that I’ll usually find something about it to enjoy even if one or two areas are a bit lacking.  In a short story, however, lapses like this stick out like a sore thumb.  There is no room to hide and no margin for error.  Consequently, I’m in two minds about Oops! because, on the one hand, the stories all had really interesting ideas but, on the other hand, I thought that the writing, though enthusiastic, was a bit weak and so the concepts were let down.

Let me start out with what I liked about this book.  Firstly, I thought that the plot ideas were fresh and interesting, and you can see from the blurb how wide-ranging they were.  Darrell Bain obviously has a very active imagination and I would guess that there are still many other stories lurking in his mind.  I particularly enjoyed Robyn’s Rock, a tale about a girl who has picked up a rock which enables her to predict future disasters, and Samantha’s Talent, a story about a girl who can speak to animals (although chapters have no place in a short story).  I also really liked the little introductions and concluding notes from the author which accompany each story, explaining how he came to write it.  It gives an insight into the author’s way of thinking which is unusual and refreshing.

There were some bits of writing which were well executed, especially Bain’s characterisation of disobedient tractors in Coyote Scare, which:

…I swear were sentient and spent the nights conniving with each other about what kind of trouble they would get me into and how much blood they could make me shed the next day, I had an awful experience on one.  It had nothing to do with any of the tractor’s moving parts, those that spent their time lying in wait for me to come close enough to get bitten or chewed or gouged or gnawed on.  Tractors are savage and evil and should be sold with guards whose duty it is to threaten them with both barrels of a twelve gauge shotgun the minute they get out of line. (p. 40)

Unfortunately, I found this amusing style to be the exception rather than the rule.  I could tell from the writing that Bain obviously really enjoys what he does, but his skills are somewhat lacking.  Dialogue in particular was weak, stilted and unbelievable.  Also, I don’t think I’ve read a story since I was five years old which ends ‘And they lived happily ever after’ in a non-ironic way.  At least two of these do, from what I remember.  I’m all for happy endings, but there are much more elegant ways to express this or indeed demonstrate it so that I can work it out myself without having to be so direct and unimaginative.

The other problem is the editing.  While grammar errors are pleasingly few and far between, there are a few continuity problems which a decent editor should have picked up on.  Perhaps the most glaring was in The Furniture Formula, where cave woman Uga, when her husband dismisses her interior design ideas, says:

All right, but I’ve decided I’m going to sleep on the saber tooth tiger skin for a while.  You can sleep on the bear skin by yourself. (p. 120)

And yet, after caveman Ug agrees for the furniture to be moved:

Uga then moved back to the saber tooth tiger skin and slept with Ug. (p. 120)

How can Uga move back to the saber tooth tiger skin if she’s been sleeping there all along?  The close proximity of these sentences to one another on the same page highlights the issue rather unfortunately.  Nonetheless, with some more careful editing and tightening up of the writing this could be an enjoyable story collection, although probably not one for me.

Where this book goes: I keep all ARC copies that I am sent (well, a grand total of two so far) because I’m very grateful to have received them.

Tea talk: I’ve recently been given an individual coffee filter and some posh ground decaff as I’ve recently lost my long-cultivated resistance to caffeine (sob).  It’s wonderful as, while cheap ordinary coffee is tolerable, cheap decaff is utterly vile, so I’ve been enjoying being able to drink coffee again.

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