I read, and rather enjoyed, the first collection of Shorts on the Line by the Fiction Writers of the Monterey Peninsula. I’d been looking forward to their second collection, Monterey Shorts 2: More On The Line – Stories by the Fiction Writers of the Monterey Peninsula.
So I’m very sorry to say that their second effort doesn’t quite live up to the first.
All writers have their quirks of style and theme. Those quirks were noticeable in the first FWOMP collection, and gave it some texture. Here they’ve overgrown into obsessions and ruts, shoving the stories down inorganic routes and stifling the growth out of the characters. A supportive writer’s group can serve to trim such excesses, as FWOMP has shown in the past. Monterey Shorts 2 has the feel of a circle of friends telling each other stories they’ve heard before, trusting familiar ears to fill in the gaps and forgive the faults. It may be effective among the members of FWOMP themselves, but to an uninitiated reader, it’s like getting the cold shoulder from several hundred pages.
But Monterey Shorts 2 really suffers when the attitude of exclusion extends to the characters. Several of the tales feature a viewpoint character and then a handful of humanoid props, people who seem meant to occupy no space beyond pleasing or antagonizing the main character. Shaheen Schmidt’s duet of stories, “Donya’s Spices” and “Love Nest,” are the most notable, starring a wise woman surrounded by unsympathetic simpletons.
That overarching sense of failure hurts more because there are so many solid stories in the collection. Lele Dahle’s “The Monkey House Inn” is warmly disturbing and moves between the horrors of the fantastic and the horrors of the mundane with understated grace. Dahle’s prose strives towards the lyrical with “Moran”, and if it doesn’t quite succeed, it at least creates beauty in the attempt. Frances J. Rossi delivers an uncommonly humane study of a community’s struggle with disability, politics, and art in “As a Bird.” Walter E. Gourlay’s interlocking tales of “Theo” and “Lavinia” twine two standards of folklore together for new effect. Linda Price’s straightforward crime thrillers don’t push the boundaries of the genre, but they’re fast ad tight knit enough for reader to feel along with the main characters. And Chris Kemp is clearly having fun pushing his writing skills around the edges of time and space.
But they just can’t erase the bitterness left over by Mike Tyrell’s materialistic “Moving Day” or wipe away the callousness Rossi shows the unfortunate secondary characters in “Framed”. It’s clear that FWOMP holds some potentially great writers, but here they’ve been left out to dry.