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Truth is stranger than fiction. Such a maxim seems to get proven nearly every time one goes into a weird news site or ventures a bit outside their normal boundary around town. However, realistic fiction shines under that same guise, only the author is able to create their own reality and create a world that perhaps makes a little more (or a little less) sense than the real one we live in. I was personally given the opportunity of receiving a copy of Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories by Niles Reddick for advance review.
Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories is a series of forty-five realistic fiction short stories. The stories are abundantly short, as the whole book runs for about 150 pages. Each story focuses on some aspect of life in the Southern United States. The book does not throw this theme into your face, however. The way it manifests can range from a simple mention of location to cultural issues such as race relations.
What I enjoyed about Reading the Coffee Grounds the most was the writing style. Each story reads very well. Reddick has a way of setting his scene effectively by only using a small amount of words for us to understand the backstory before we get into the meat of the story at hand. There is a certain economy to each story. If you aren’t the biggest fan of the subject of a story, the next one is right around the corner. In that sense, the book is the perfect candidate for binge-reading. Where I think this book shines is the way that the theme is conveyed. The book demonstrates some of the cultural differences of the South, but it also has a sort of underlying humanity that anyone can enjoy and relate to. The setting is relevant but not alienating whatsoever. A story that personally sticks in my head is towards the end of the series; it’s a story about a normal guy who moves into a cabin for graduate school. It held a sort of camaraderie and gentleness that stayed in my mind long after the end of the book.
As much as the flash fiction short story format helped to keep a clipping pace through the book, I did have a problem keeping track of all the stories. With 45 stories in 150 pages, an average of a little over three pages per story, I felt a little astounded when I looked back at the list of stories I had read within the last couple weeks. However, there was only a handful of stories I could poignantly remember in my head. What may have better served the collection was if the stories had been organized in some way. Some stories did have an unmentioned but small connection between their following stories (like two being about college or academia and being close together in order), but I felt like that was just me trying to order them in my head. The book may have been able to tell a grand story alongside all of the poignant moments that each story invoked if there were a better or intentional organization.
There is also one certain story about a mugging and an assault that felt a little out of place and was unbelievably dark. I’m not necessarily opposed to dark content in reading, but it threw me off and took me out of my reading experience a bit since it seemed so out of place in the book. It made me wonder exactly what the author was trying to tell me by exposing its reader to such harsh content. Even the murder mystery that went on a few stories earlier did not make me feel in such a way.
Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories was a nice dive into realistic fiction about the American South and does so with an amount of economy and commendable expertise. However, with a lack of organization combined with the short format, it can become increasingly harder to recall the exact moments of stories except for a couple standouts. I would recommend this book to people who are already into short story compilations, but I would recommend anyone else to see if they could get a preview before they purchase it, as one might not be comfortable with the flash fiction format. The writing has a certain expertise to it that I cannot overlook. I’m not sure I’ll read this book again, but I definitely enjoyed the ride.
Reading the Coffee Grounds and Other Stories by Niles Reddick
Publishers: Aakenbaaken & Kent
The book has not been released yet, but it is slated to come out August 2018.