Pecker’s Revenge And Other Stories From The Frontier’s Edge
Lori Van Pelt’s short western stories have won awards, been printed in anthologies and read at the Autry Museum. Pecker’s Revenge is her first collection of short fiction.
Several stories in this collection follow one of two patterns: 1) the first half tells a fictionalized version of a legend or piece of history from the American West, then jumps ahead to a modern-day tour guide or teacher giving exposition (“And that’s the story of [whatever].”) Or 2) the story begins in the middle of the action, and then jumps immediately to exposition about what has led up to this moment (sometimes about what happened before that as well). Van Pelt works hard to establish a sense of place, with mixed results. Ironically, the stories that are most successful at evoking believable characters and emotion are set in the present day (“The Apology Tree,” “The Upholsterer’s Apprentice”), with glimpses of the historical back-story shown through diary entries, local color and the like. The stories themselves are heavily plot-driven, as short stories usually are, but some have more story to them than others. Some are engaging, some suspenseful; others attempt suspense and gritty realism but end up dull and/or anticlimactic. At least one story’s title gives away the ending (“Lover’s Leap”—does anyone not know?). A few have author’s notes at the end, though these don’t really seem to add any information or insight to the story in question.
There’s a lot of “telling” of action and emotion, rather than “showing,” and many of the characters fit easily into the familiar Western archetypes. The best story in the collection is “Prairie Music,” a haunting tale that stays with the reader after some of the others fade. Though there’s much here that is good, the collection is uneven at best.