22nd December 2012

Fifty/Fifty and Other stories by Matthew W. McFarland

Fifty/Fifty is a small collection of short stories ranging from funny, to slightly creepy, to slightly gory. As the author notes in the Afterword, some of these stories are more fictionalised than others, although they are all fictionalised to some extent. The less fictionalised stories read like reminiscences rather than fictional pieces.

As with any collection, some of the stories appealed to me more than others. For me, the most enjoyable story was "Christmas with the kids", a funny tale about out of control children at Christmas time. This was closely followed by "The Burning Bar", with a nice twist, and "Defenestration", a fascinating story told from the perspective of a man falling from a window. "Wee Tiny Spiders" is nicely creepy. The least satisfying story was the gory "The Seventeenth Door". It is not the goriness which mars the story; rather, the story does not seem well-structured or paced. Many of the other stories read like reminiscences rather than works of fiction. They are not badly written; but they lack some of the spark and creativity of the more fictional stories. Perhaps the juxtaposition of the two styles does not work very well. Nevertheless, these reminiscences provide some interesting insights into what it was like growing up in Belfast in the last years of the confict there. I was not entirely clear into which category the title story, "Fifty/Fifty" fell.

All of these pieces are well written. The style is crisp and clear; language is well-used. The better stories are very well-constructed, well-paced, with the denouement well-timed. Perhaps this is where the more reminiscent style pieces disappointed a little. They were well-written and interesting, but lacked the twist in the tail of some of the other stories. Such a twist is probably not to be expected in pieces of this type. However, when starting to read a particular story, I did not know which type to expect; so, for the first page or so, I was preoccupied with determining the genre or style. I am not sure what the solutions to this is, particularly if the pieces I am describing as reminiscences are more fictionalised than I imagine. As reminiscences they are good; as fiction they are less good.

In rating this collection, I would give "Christmas with the kids" 5 stars, and "The Burning Bar" and "Defenestration" each 4.5 stars. Many of the rest I would give 4 stars, the exception being "The Seventeenth Door", with only 3 stars. Overall, I think the collection is worth 4 stars. There will be something here for everyone to like.