Tea and other Ayama Na Tales.  Eleanor Bluestein.  Short Fiction Collection.

Today 1979 Semi-Finalist is featuring a stop on Eleanor Bluestein’s Blog Tour for her debut short fiction collection, Tea and other Ayama Na Tales.  Today’s post is my review of Bluestein’s book, but please come back on Monday, April 20th, for my interview with her.

On Monday I will also be announcing the winner of a free copy of her book courtesy of Ms. Bluestein,  BkMk Press and TLC Book Tours.  Enter to win by posting the name of your favorite short fiction collection (or stand alone story, or novel if you’re not big on short fiction – yet!) in the comments below and come back Monday to see who won.*

Bluestein’s Ayama Na is an amazing and intricately drawn world, so well conceived and elegantly plotted that if she didn’t admit straight off that it was fictional I would have spent hours online searching for the tiny nation, wondering how I’d missed it in the history and geography classes of my youth.

I don’t know what inspired Bluestein to create such a layered and fascinating nation for her fictional tales, but it’s a stroke of genius.  I loved how her stories flowed together, they were arranged in the perfect order, one flowing into another flawlessly, the characters connected by their Ayama Na heritage, but not connected so closely that our journey through Ayama Na was small.  I felt through the stories a complete sense of the entire nation of Ayama Na from its war torn countrysides to its teeming and shaky urban development.

I thought Hamburger School, AIBO or Love at First Sight, and North of The Faro were incredibly well crafted tales – beautifully written character studies within her fascinating world.  They were the true standouts for me of the collection.

The collection was also very balanced, which if you read this blog and my frequent short fiction reviews, you’ll know it’s something I’m always looking for and rarely discovering in short fiction, even in the best of collections.  Often stories stand out as tiny bits of brilliance while others fall through the cracks, making the collection uneven, often preventing it from feeling like a cohesive collection.  Bluestein’s collection though feels very much like one complete piece of work.  These stories all very much belong together, in fact they exist more perfectly together as a whole I think than they ever would standing on their own, which is not a criticism, but rather a compliment of how delightfully complete and well thought out Bluestein’s Ayama Na is.

With the exception of a few characters in two of the stories (The Cut the Crap Machine and The Blanks) all of her characters were beautifully drawn, realistic, and well rounded and I always wanted to know more about them and to delve even more deeply into their worlds.

For my tastes, Bluestein’s current style is a little too exposition filled.  Instead of allowing us to observe and understand her lovely characters naturally, to let us watch and learn based on their actions, we spend too much time inside their heads, dealing with often repetitive character introspection.  To be fair, it’s a realistic repetition, in real life we ponder things for days, weeks, months, years even before coming to decisions or changing as people, but it’s not necessarily an effective style in short fiction.  Her already engaging characters would benefit from more show and less tell.  And a stronger editor(s) might help Bluestein to refine her otherwise lovely style.

Some of the stories were more powerful than others for me, largely based on this issue of too much tell and not enough show.  Tea, the title story, suffered tremendously in this way, as did The Artist’s Story, which had one of my favorite characters in the entire book but didn’t deliver for me on the whole, whereas Hamburger School and AIBO or Love at First Sight were more effective in allowing Bluestein’s characters to grow and evolve naturally on the page with less interior monologue.

Additionally, I think for short fiction of this caliber some of the stories were a bit obvious and overly explained.  In Skin Deep, a story whose concept appealed to me greatly, I was really let down in that I could see the ending coming from a mile away – and it’s a great ending – but the story would have benefited from less explanation, so that there was more surprise and wonder for the reader in arriving there.

I personally like a strong narrative in my short fiction and generally prefer narrative and character studies to more experimental fiction, however in Bluestein’s case I think her stories would benefit from a little ambiguity.  Her stories are so thoroughly fleshed out – literally every i dotted, t crossed, and endings tied up in bows and delivered with no effort required on my part as the reader – that it occasionally felt a bit preachy.  And it sometimes felt delivered after the fact, just in case I didn’t get what I was supposed to in the more nuanced and skillful pages that preceded the endings.

Overall I think Bluestein has a wonderful style and a great imagination, and I hope she keeps writing and pushing and that I’ll see another collection from her sometime soon, but I think she needs to trust her readers more.  Readers of short fiction are usually bright insightful people like Bluestein herself, and she needs to trust that we’ll get there with her beautiful words – and without the tidy explanations.

You can purchase Tea and other Ayama Na Tales at Amazon or from Small Press Distribution

Other Stops on the Blog Tour:
Wednesday, April 1st: The Bluestocking Society
Monday, April 6th: Bookstack
Wednesday, April 8th: Nerd’s Eye View
Friday, April 10th: Lotus Reads
Monday, April 13th: 8 Asians
Wednesday, April 15th: 1979 Semi-Finalist
Friday, April 17th: Ramya’s Bookshelf
Monday, April 20th: Feminist Review
Thursday, April 23rd: Trish’s Reading Nook
Tuesday, April 28th: Medieval Bookworm
Wednesday, April 29th: Savvy Verse and Wit

*Please enter only once, although if you link to this review on a blog or website you may post that link in a separate comment for an additional entry into the contest.  The winner will be announced Monday, April 20th on this blog by a random drawing.  All entries must be posted in the comments section by 11:59 pm Sunday, April 19th.