As a writer and a reader, I tend to prefer short stories. I respect an author’s ability to pack a fully realized world in only a few words. For this reason, among others, I decided to pick up Compendium (Engen Books, 2009) and I’m glad I did.
With limited space, the storyteller must be in complete control of the language. In Compendium, Ellen Curtis shows why she’s so highly touted. The three stories in this book simply ooze atmosphere. All well-written stories trigger the senses but sometimes it takes a few pages or even chapters before the brain is able to visualize based on the information provided. In Compendium, I found that a few paragraphs in, I had been whisked away to Curtis’ worlds.
So what are these worlds? Things get underway with The Tourniquet Revival, a traditional horror tale in which two girls learn that a slick-talking man isn’t all that he seems. At Midnight, The Dawn leans more toward fantasy and focuses on a young man whose fate is tied to that of the world. Falling Into Fire uses science fiction as a backdrop but is more of a character-driven thriller.
Of the three, I prefer the final entry but cannot fully quantify that feeling. Perhaps it’s the ‘ticking clock’ trope but I suspect the characterization and dialogue had more to do with it. I was not a fan of the protagonists in the first story and not really a fan of anyone in the second one so I suspect Falling Into Fire may win by default.
This may lead you to believe the stories are lacking and this is not the case. Technically speaking, Curtis has shown some serious chops as a storyteller. As a reader, I can see the talent and potential percolating beneath the words; as a writer, I sense someone who understands the craft.
What is my ultimate feeling for Compendium, then? It’s a strong technical book that is over too quickly. Here’s hoping we see some more of Curtis’ work soon.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars