"Blanket of White" Book Review
When I saw my daughter's smile, I knew I had made the right decision. – "Blanket of White"
Written by Amy Grech
2009, 132 pages, Fiction
Released on September 1st, 2009
In Amy Grech's anthology, Blanket of White, the 14 tales are a mix of horror (both real life and fantasy) and science fiction, but most share a very bleak undercurrent of despair and a good chunk of them are incredibly sexual in nature. The majority of the stories sucker punch you with the unflinching treatment of the characters involved, yet Grech's biggest strengths are the yarns when she is not putting her characters through hell.
"Blanket of White", the title story in this anthology, is a perfect example of this. In this piece, a father decides to give his daughter, who has cerebral palsy, what he believes is the ultimate gift. It's touching, poignant and, above all, incredibly disturbing. Even though you may or may not agree with the father's decision, it forces you to think about his situation and whether or not he made the right choice.
As thought provoking as "Blanket of White" is, though, Grech is at her strongest in "Damp Wind and Leaves". This is the only story in the book that is upbeat and it is surprisingly tender when compared to the rest. There's not a lot of plot to the tale, it just follows Jeff, the main character, around for the evening as he attempts to scare the young children who have come to his parents' house for a Halloween party. In addition to the kids, Melanie, a girl Jeff's age, has arrived and he spends his evening trying to get her attention as well. The only thing that comes close to horror in this piece is that it's Halloween and there are mentions of some classic monsters. Taken at face value, "Damp Wind and Leaves" shouldn't be as good as it is, but Grech manages to bring the characters to life in its six short pages.
For humor, "Come and Gone" is an amusing little jaunt into the life of Chris, a guy who is recently single and is determined to find something in the house to masturbate with (or to) that doesn't remind him of his ex-girlfriend. I don't know if it's intended to be a darker tale than I took it, but I couldn't help but laugh with the story as Chris rummages around the house in frustration, just trying to find that one thing that doesn't bring his ex to mind.
I won't touch on every story, as they all have something to offer, but there was also a level of frustration when reading the book due to it just being too wordy at times. In many of the tales in Blanket of White, there are so many details thrown out that it's distracting, especially during conversations throughout the book. Every statement does not need a description.
For example, in "Cold Comfort" — one of two nasty little tales on why you shouldn't pick up strange women in bars — Jack and Sadie are talking at a bar. Here's part of the conversation:
"It's Ladies' Night." Jack chuckled. "I'm here to buy drinks for the lovely ladies like you."
She shook her finger at him. "I doubt your girlfriend would approve."
"I promise not to tell."
Sadie folded her arms. "Have you bought anyone drinks yet?"
He shook his head. "You're the first girl to pique my interest." He waved the burly bartender over and ordered a Zombie for her and another Apricot Sour for himself. "Amy would have a fit if she found out I was here." Jack winked.
"You've got spunk and you're brutally honest. You're a rare find. Amy is a very lucky girl." Sadie grinned.
It seems nitpicky, and while on the surface that doesn't seem too bad, but when a good amount of the conversations have these additions of arms folding, finger shakings and chucklings, it all starts to become very busy. When everything is overly descriptive, it causes the things that need to have detail to be less powerful. Grech has a good vocabulary, but her overuse of it hurts the parts when she needs it most. This overuse undercuts the strength of the tales, and it becomes a problem when the reader is tripping over unnecessary words to get through the story.
Another slight issue with the book, and this is actually a credit to the author, is I wanted more out of some of the stories. There were a few that were too short and, in turn, felt rushed. "Crosshairs" immediately comes to mind. In "Crosshairs", young Billy has an unnatural love for guns and goes to great lengths to please his father by demonstrating his prowess with one. Like "Blanket of White", this one is damn uncomfortable and it left me wanting to know more about Billy and his sickness. The ending seemed very hurried, especially considering what the boy did to deserve his father's punishment at the finale, and I felt cheated when the build up was more shocking than the ending.
Blanket of White is a tough book to review because the writing is both flawed and intriguing. Amy Grech obviously has the skills to write a terrific piece, as seen in "Damp Wind and Leaves", but the hasty endings and frustrating wordplay hurt what should be knock out stories. Grech is no slouch, that's for sure, and I have a feeling I will be picking up future works. Even with the issues with Blanket of White, she does have a knack for some thought-provoking writing, in which she's capable of making it either dark and disturbing or tender and poignant, or even a mixture of all.