reviewed by Stephen Blackmoore
Reviews are tricky.
You’re balancing your subjectivity as a reader with the objectivity that the piece deserves. You have to separate them and view the whole for its quality, not just whether you liked it or not. It’s the way a food critic who can’t stand French cuisine can still appreciate a good boeuf bourguignon, and hate a crappy cheeseburger.
Too many reviews don’t make this distinction and they turn “I didn’t like this,” into “This sucks,” which is not only useless but doesn’t give the reader or the writer the respect they’re due.
If you’re going to say you don’t like something, say why you don’t like it. On the merits of the piece itself, on what you think it’s trying to do, what you think the writer’s intention is, whether you think it was a success or a failure.
As a general rule I don’t do reviews. They are, frankly, a pain in the ass. I don’t think I’m very good at them.
So with that in mind I have to say I didn’t care for “Inside Out” by Sean P Ferguson in the anthology Warmed and Bound.
“Inside Out” is a short story about celebrity, the sort that comes from notoriety, from being a victim, and the public’s insatiable need to keep making that person a victim, up to the point where the victim becomes complicit in his own victimhood.
As an allegory it’s fine, I suppose, though it feels like territory that’s been trod upon time and again. As a short story, though, it doesn’t work as well as it could.
It is essentially one scene split in half and filled with a flashback. It opens with the unnamed protagonist bleeding for his audience on reality television, literally, and ends with a twist that is, unfortunately, as uninteresting and aggravating as it is unexpected.
The flashback tells the story of how the protagonist came by his notoriety, the people who screwed him and screwed him over and his slow, unwilling journey to accepting what the world has made of him. It’s bleak, which is not a bad thing. I like bleak.
The problem is that it’s boring. Because so much of it is told in flashback the voice is a distant first person. We’re told it happened, rather than experiencing any of it. It’s that old chestnut show, don’t tell.
Though the twist in the final scene fits in with the message of the story, making the point of how false our new definition of celebrity really is, it also invalidates the beginning. Not telling the reader everything up front is an important writer’s tool, and done well it works great.
But this piece is so short, and the voice offers so little engagement with the character that instead of making it an interesting, revelatory ending, it just falls flat.
If “Inside Out” were longer, if it were given more time to breathe as a story I think it would have worked. Ferguson’s very clearly a talented writer. But as it is it’s too short to do more than offer the most cursory examination of the protagonist’s role in celebrity culture.