Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Short Stack” Is A Master Class In Short Stories

Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Short Stack” Is A Master Class In Short Stories

If you want to learn how to write devastatingly effective noir short stories, you need to read author who do it best: Reed Farrel Coleman is one of such people.

Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Short Stack” is one of those short story collections that show how it’s done. If you’ve heard of Coleman, you know that he’s spent decades mining some of crime fiction’s deepest veins. He’s written series and standalones, as well as poetry and essays; he’s won or been a finalist for pretty much every crime-fiction award.

Even if you’re not looking for a master class in short stories’ structure and payoff, the tales in “Short Stack” are a pleasure (and a quick read). “Another Role,” in which a Native American actor finds himself unknowingly embroiled in a long con, was a particular favorite of mine, and quintessential noir: smooth and yet acerbic, like fine whiskey that burns your gut on the way down. Another story, “Kaddish,” was Coleman’s first published tale, yet shows his mastery of the form from the very start.

Hell, all the stories in here are great.

And unlike the vast majority of noir short-story collections, you also get some poetry, as well. Noir poetry is a deceptively hard thing to pull off; it’s too easy to go overwrought; or to over-rely, like a drunk clinging to a lamppost, on the tropes of the genre. Coleman neatly avoids those perils by going as stripped-down as possible, letting the spaces and silences speak volumes. The truths come fast and sharp:

We’re all masochists it seems.
Yes, we hate it,
but we’re not about to give up boredom for nostalgia.

Indeed. Nothing boring at all in this collection; Coleman delivers in short, masterful bursts.

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