Horse of a Different Color: Stories
by Howard Waldrop
Cover Artist: Brain Lei
Review by Benjamin Wald
Small Beer Press Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781618730749
Date: 06 September 2013 / Publisher's Book Page / Show Official Info /
Howard Waldrop is an author I had heard complimented many times, but never got around to reading. With his latest collection of short fiction, Horse of a Different Color, I have finally rectified this oversight, and I am glad to have done so. Waldrop is a fascinating and difficult to characterize author. The stories in this collection are offbeat and wonderful; the title story features a pair of vaudeville pantomime horse performers on a quest for the holy grail. Waldrop has a knack for dialogue, a wonderful and distinctive prose style, and his stories pack an emotional wallop.
A personal favorite in this collection is "The King of Where-I-Go". Ostensibly a time-travel story, the focus is on our complex relations to our own childhood, and the relationship between the narrator and his sister around which the story revolves is very well done. It's a subtle story, both in terms of the action itself and in the themes at play, and one that rewards rereading.
Another effective story is the emotionally brutal "Kindermarchen", which starts off masquerading as a retelling of Hansel and Gretel before veering into something much darker--it's a very short story, but a haunting one, that somehow manages to say just enough to suggest the horrors that its children protagonists fail to see.
"Nineslando" is a fascinating and somewhat surreal story. The story is set during world war I, and features Esperanto, an artificial language invented to be a universal tool of communication. The story effectively juxtaposes the universalist, cosmopolitan dreams of the founder of Esperanto and those who learned it during the vicious tribalism of the war.
The stories are accompanied by entertaining author's notes, some of which describe the stories themselves and others of which focus more on the process of getting the stories into print, which reveals some interesting and amusing insights into what it is like to work as an author.
I didn't quite know what to expect going into this collection, and in a way I still don't. Waldrop's writing is impossible to characterize, and almost as difficult to describe. He is a unique voice, and I regret that I didn't discover him sooner--I certainly intend to seek out more of his work now that I have tried it. I highly recommend this book, and I hope it's publication will win Waldrop new fans.