Blue World

by Robert McCammon

“Something tore,” Spence said tonelessly. “Ripped open. Something won the fight, and I don’t think it was who the preachers said was gonna win.”

Many of us perform a bit of research into any book before picking one up, mostly because they all take hours and we’d rather not waste our time. This one had a few mixed results initially, but seemed promising enough for a go.

(I finished it this morning, and returning to the site of one of the detractors had me more than a little miffed. I spent about 10 minutes just bashing someone I’ve never met, without reading any of his other posts, and it was my mistake to waste the time. Everyone gets an opinion. After calming down and deleting everything I’d just written I figured I’d sum up that little micro-experience, just to illustrate how strongly I feel about the book. I might’ve missed this book if only listening to that one idiot guy, and that would be a far worse thing than morons diversity at the keyboard.)

The best stories here are singled out below and the rest mostly ignored to to keep the review length down. The book starts strong with “Yellowjacket Summer,” is well followed by “Makeup” and “Doom City,” but starts to find its genius in “Nightcrawlers.”

“Nightcrawlers” has The X-Files written all over it. A man tears into the diner of a small town, stating he won’t sleep, and is quite obviously terrorized by something. The cop in the diner is hesitant to let anyone back out into the torrential downpour outside, and waking nightmares take the stage. Another excellent story, “Pin,” follows, but after there’s yet another showstopper, “Yellachile’s Cage.”

“Yellachile’s Cage” may not be the most PC story in today’s environment, and perhaps a little cliché, but it’s undeniably effective as it explores freedom from inside a prison compound. It also wears its heart on its sleeve as a ‘voodoo-man’ shows a younger inmate the ropes by way of his loyal and undying bird. “I Scream Man,” my least favorite of the collection but still a step above fair, is followed by “He’ll Come Knocking at Your Door,” another excellent story concerning The Devil, Halloween, and what we do for success. Then comes “Chico,” a good story but outclassed by its peers, and is followed by, “Night Calls the Green Falcon.”

This story is reason enough to buy the book. “Night Calls the Green Falcon” concerns a washed-up 50’s serial comic-hero actor, who sees a tragedy and knows his chance to make a difference is to don the costume of his past, along with the hero persona, and get out there and help. Ridiculed mercilessly along the way, the Green Falcon battles his own lack of self-esteem along with the odds, and you ache for him to succeed.

Following up is the equally impressive, humane, force of nature that is “The Red House.” A stranger moves to a small, uniform town and has his house painted bright red in a sea of grey, standing out like sore thumb. The newcomer also takes a job at the town’s factory and quickly begins outpacing everyone. His house, his dress and his work ethic cause a special enmity to develop between him and his neighbor across the street, who’s been hoping for a promotion but seeing it all drift away in a sea of red. We’re examined, our pettiness is exposed, and hope is given in the form of a small boy, present in all of us, struggling to understand and exert his influence on his world. A kind of Atticus Finch is channeled. This one also contains the greatest quote of the book:

“Damn it, Bobby, are you with me or against me?”
I didn’t answer because I didn’t know what to say. What’s wrong and what’s right when you love somebody?

Following up is “Something Passed By,” another excellent story detailing the end of the world, and then one final showstopper, a novella making up half of the collection and the title story, “Blue World.”

“Blue World” is the story of a straight-laced Catholic priest who becomes mixed up with an adult-film actress, questioning himself the whole time as his structured world deteriorates. There is a plot loosely built on an insane cowboy on a killing spree, but it’s really about the nature of helping people, the hypocrisy and pettiness built into us and some of our institutions, our vulnerability, and what can be done about it. And what should be done about it. This is yet another story where the author’s heart is on his sleeve, and it’s another that really shouldn’t be missed.

This collection is accessible, miles away from heavy-handed and a world away from pretentious. It’s also heartfelt. Blue World as a whole achieves a rating that shouldn’t actually be possible for a collection or anthology.

5 stars

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