Five Autobiographies and a Fiction
by Lucius Shepard
Cover Artist: J.K. Potter
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596065550
Date: 01 April 2013
Five Autobiographies and a Fiction collects six original novellas by Lucius Shepard. It's rare to see a collection of novellas, never mind by a single author. It is a length that Shepard excels at, and we are lucky that Subterranean Press has made this collection possible. Shepard opens the collection with a frank introduction that shows how the protagonists of five of the novellas represent paths that Shepard could have seen his own life taking, showing how they are in a sense alternate history autobiographies, which probably explains the sensitivity and compassion Shepherd's writing displays for even his most flawed protagonists.
The novella length is perfectly suited to Shepard's character driven stories. He has room to develop a character and a situation, and the story is short enough that none of his characters overstay their welcome. And it is these characters that are the greatest strength of these stories. In many of the stories his protagonists are people at the margins of society. There is the petty crook, the washed up former actor, and the small town adolescent trying to figure out his life. Shepard not only brings these characters to life, he also makes us see the world through their eyes. Even their cruelties and weaknesses are rendered tragically understandable, without lessening their responsibility for their own misdeeds.
The plots to the stories tend to be relatively familiar. "Vacancy", for example, has a classic horror story plotline, where a man is punished by supernatural means for past misdeeds, while "The Flock" concerns an adolescent's decision whether to stay in the small town he has grown up in or whether to risk striking out into the wider world. "Rose Street Attractors" has a classic ghost story plot. Where Shepard uses more unfamiliar plot structures, such as in "Halloween Town", the result is somewhat disjointed and not entirely successful. However, Shepard's outstanding prose and painstakingly rendered characters turn these stock plots into deeply personal explorations of life, and how our decisions affect those around us and ourselves.
If I have one quibble with this collection, it is that the supernatural elements seem almost an afterthought in one or two of the stories. "The Flock" and "Ditch Witch" both feel as if they would work perfectly well without the fantasy elements of the story, and for "Ditch Witch" I thought the fantasy element was a distraction. Still, this is a small complaint, and in other stories, notably "Vacancy" and "Dog-Eared Paperback of my Life" the supernatural melds perfectly into the story that Shepard is telling.
This collection is amazingly rewarding. These are clearly deeply personal stories for the author, and it pays off in the depth and richness of his writing. I highly recommend this collection to one and all.