One of my all-time favorite meals was a restaurant near Torino, Italy with a famous antipasti buffet--literally over a hundred options--hot/cold, spicy/sweet/savory, you name it. From one bite to the next, I didn't know what to expect. This collection of short stories is the literary equivalent of that culinary delight.
For those unfamiliar with Davis, he is somewhat of a "jack-of-all-trades", crossing many literary genres, but perhaps best-known to "non-writers" for science fiction and western. I am more familiar with some of his sci-fi, but apparently within writing circles he's also known for about every genre, and this collection demonstrates why.
It's a quirky and weird read, and that is intended entirely as a compliment. Normally short story anthologies have "theme" or at least a consistent genre. The only theme tying things together is the author himself. While it isn't obvious that this SHOULD work, it does.
The set of stories progresses seasonally--winter to spring, and on to summer then fall. But beyond that, one never knows what is coming next, only that it's sure to be good (hence my "buffet analogy"). At one point ("The End of Spring"), I thought I was reading a modern Western, only to find myself instead reading what I thought was a horror thriller. By the end, I don't know what I read, but I had loved it and desperately wanted to know "What happened after that?".
The difficulty in reviewing short stories is that I can't say much without giving away the plot. Davis is all over the place--from reimagining the King Arthur legend (providing us the "non-white-washed" version), to turning the Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday story into a fun ghost romp. In between these two crazy departures are a number of entirely original story lines, some gritty, some funny, and some thoroughly magical.
"The Last Day of the Rest of Her Life" is one of those "can't pull your eyes away from the crash" tragedies--beautifully and painfully executed. "Houdini's Mirror" (in the opening sequence) is as magical as its name.
In the Second part ("Spring") "Engines of Desire and Despair" is just wonderful and haunting, along with "The Angel Chamber" which shows up during the "Summer" sequence.
He never lets up, with "Letter to Josie" as the Earp/Holliday entry. And he finishes strongly with "Midnight at the Half-Life Cafe"--a wonderful meditation on our mortality and our roles in that mortality, and "The Things She Handed Down", which can be called nothing less than a beautiful eulogy from the writer to his mother.
I would strongly encourage anybody to be sure and read the author's introduction and "About the Author"--with this background set of details, it becomes clear that if "The Things She Handed Down" isn't thoroughly autobiography, that it is at least heavily influenced by his experiences. I was literally driven to tears in reading it--it was so beautiful and poignant.
A mark of a good book is the "I am so tired, but I can't put this down" syndrome. Given my 2:30 a.m. reading time at one point, this definitely met the mark.
If you are looking only for "A bunch of Sci-Fi Stories" or "A bunch of Western Stories", then this may not be for you. But if you are willing to "nibble" across a wide range of genres, be entertained and engrossed, and just appreciate somebody who's good at his craft, try this book out.