Without Expiration is a volume of twelve short stories by author William R. Hincy. I commented on Sam at Book Chase's review and the author kindly asked me if I would like a copy to read and review. I don't do this very often but on this occasion I said 'yes' and I'm glad I did.
The tag line on the front cover of this book asks: Are we bad people who sometimes do good things, or good people who do bad things?
I had a few favourite stories in the collection.
Left to Soak. A woman reflects on a lifetime of washing dishes. Not once in her 46 years of marriage has her husband ever done them for her or picked up the teatowel and wiped them dry. He's also taken her off to live in Boulder, Colorado, to mine silver, leaving her to live in a pigsty while he goes off to try and make his fortune. Funnily enough I've also been married for 46 years but fortunately I have a husband who does do dishes! However, I have come across marriages where the husband won't lift a finger to help, so this story rang a bell. It made me wonder if young women these days put up with this kind of behaviour. There's a sadness to the end of this story, a poignancy that makes you take a deep breath and sigh.
Friendly Stranger. I suppose this is a road-rage story but also it's about the modern scourge of 'impatience'. A driver is cut up by another road user then comes across him further along the road, stranded. He stops. You're sure he's going to help out. Definitely he is...
A Study in Discontinuity. A man's wife is in a coma and has been for years. Except that she keeps waking up from this coma, for several days, before slipping back into it. (I've actually no idea if this actually 'can' happen.) She's full of hate because of something he did, but whatever it is he's paying for it bigtime because every time she wakes up years have passed and nothing is the same as it was last time but they're still married of course. This is a really wierd story, almost science-fiction in flavour, certainly a bit on the creepy side. The author uses annotations to effect in this but for me I'm not sure they weren't a bit distracting.
Years of the Dog. A Chinese family own a very old dog... and keep on owning it... down the generations this dog survives. I wasn't sure what to make of this but I was 'so' intrigued by it.
Flying. An elderly father wants to go paint-balling with his grown-up son. You realise something's not right when Dad comes down in his speedos and gets sent back for his trousers.
So, what about this question: Are we bad people who sometimes do good things, or good people who do bad things? It's a very good one and being old with probably far too much time on my hands, it's something that I occasionally ponder. I wish I had an answer. The news is full of terrible happenings and the kinds of things humans are willing to do to each other horrifies me on a daily basis. But it's too simplistic just to say we're basically wicked and only do good things for the look of the thing or for fear of punishment. We're too complicated for that and this book of short stories is a small piece of evidence if it were needed.
As to the actual stories, UK readers of a certain age will recall a series on TV called Tales of the Unexpected, based on the short stories of Roald Dahl. Well, this is what some of the stories in this volume reminded me of. They were uncomfortable, made you want to look away sometimes as though you were being made privy to secrets that were too private, almost too much honesty. I don't read books like this very often... I should do it a bit more as it does us good to read out of our comfort zone. And the writing is just superb, I suspect that's why the stories are so effective and hit home so accurately. They're poignant to the point of painful and I suspect the older you are the more you'll get it because at our age we've seen rather a lot and nothing surprises us any more. An uncle in his sixties used to say that to me when I was in my thirties, that nothing he heard surprised him anymore. I didn't quite get it then, not enough experience of life perhaps, but I understand it now.
As usual I find books of short stories difficult to review but this is an excellent anthology, especially if you like writing that makes you think out of the box or that takes you out of your comfort zone. It made me want to go and look for a book on psychology or anthropology... my problem is that I have too many questions and the more I read the more I have. But that's good thing, right?