This time I’m reviewing the short story collection The Theater of Dusk by Lizbeth Gabriel. I don’t read a lot of short story collections, so it was nice to read something a little different this time around. The Theater of Dusk consists of thirteen short stories, each self-contained, stand-alone narratives. Technically, everything is on point and professional. I found no typos, the formatting was professional, all that jazz. The cover is pretty good as well – it doesn’t necessarily illustrate the content within, but that’s trickier with collections versus novels.
I was on the fence about reviewing this one, since not all of the stories are fantasy in the swords and dragons sense of the word. I was also a little thrown by the trigger warning in the book’s description on Amazon, as it includes a warning specifically about gay sex, which doesn’t seem like it needs a separate warning to all the other types of sex.
As much as there is to enjoy about these stories, there’s a little bit to critique as well. It’s tricky because it’s a collection of short stories rather than a long form novel, which is what I’m more used to reviewing. Most of the stories just felt like Internet fiction writing but in book format. None of them stand out in any way from each other despite having different characters and settings. A lot of the mature content seems gratuitous, and overall it just seems like the stories were better suited to being warm up exercises than short stories.
There’s an art to writing good short stories that’s quite different to writing longer books, and a lot of it centres on having something unique and easily understandable, whereas these mostly blend into one another. The first story is confusing and relies too heavily on info-dumping. Most of them open as if they’re the beginning of a longer piece and only last a page or two, without much pay off by the end. The characters are quite flat and difficult to become invested in due to the short amount of page time each gets.
I may be marking it more harshly because two of the stories apparently won competitions, and structurally and grammatically it’s mostly fine, but overall they’re just fairly lacklustre short stories. I am willing to concede that it might be down to taste, but I have read some superb short stories in my time, some of which I still remember in detail, whereas I’m having that ‘they’re already blending together into nothingness’ that I get after reading average stories. Im not the most prolific reader out there, but I’ve read enough at this point that only the truly spectacular stories stand out in my mind, and the rest fade quickly in my mind.
But I’m interested to know what others think, so drop a comment below if you’ve read this collection and let me know what you thought of it.