Tales from the Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station
Erik Williams, John Mantooth, Kim Despins, Sam W. Anderson, Petra Miller, and Kurt Dinan
ISBN-10: 0615680178, ISBN-13: 978-0615680170,October 2012; $12.99, trade paperback.
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
First things first: An apology. I received a review copy of Tales from the Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station some time ago and read it over the next couple of days. I thoroughly enjoyed it and looked forward to saying nice things about it in a review.
Then, as so often happens, Life intruded. Every time I sat down to write, an emergency of one sort or another arose and…, well, you know the rest.
After a while, it became almost embarrassing, seeing the icon on the “to-do” side of my screen. But I’ve never let embarrassment keep me from saying nice things about good books, so—finally—here goes.
Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to review a number of “shared” anthologies, most notably Richard Salter’s shared-world collection, World’s Collider (http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2012/07/and-world-endsor-doesnt.html); and two share-universe collections, Paul Genesse’s four-volume—soon to be five—The Crimson Pact (http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2012/10/demons-and-more-demons-paul-genesses.html) and Anne C. Petty’s Limbus, Inc., to be released this month by JournalStone (http://michaelrcollings.blogspot.com/2013/02/limbus-inc-worlds-within-worlds.html).
The idea of authors pooling their imaginations to explore a common landscape, whether it be this planet or a multiplicity of worlds and possibilities, seems extraordinarily rich; and none of the examples I have seen have disappointed.
It was a bit startling, then, to open Tales from the Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station and discover, not shared universes, not shared worlds, but a shared-café. At first, I wasn’t certain what to expect; then I realized that what I was reading did not differ that much from what I often do in ‘real’ life.
I spend a good deal of time in fast-food restaurants, mostly drinking refillable sodas and reading—there is something about the background noise that soothes my tinnitus, and I am released from the pressures of having to listen for important sounds, which soothes my deafness. And I am an inveterate people-watcher; I often look up from my book or my Kindle, glance at who has just walked in, and play the “Who is this person and what is his/her story?” game.
In a way, that is precisely what Williams and the other contributors to Tales from the Yellow Rose Diner do. Half a dozen people have gathered in the lonely diner, located, as Gary A. Braunbeck so aptly notes in his introduction, “on the border of Texas and Oblivion.” For most of the characters, each of whom serves as the narrator for one of the tales, Texas is where they are coming from; and whether they know it or now, Oblivion is where they are headed.
It all starts when one patron says to another, “Tell me, what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” Another overhears the question and begins thinking about the worst thing he has ever done…and the train of stories moves on from there. All six contributors—Erik Williams, John Mantooth, Kim Despins, Sam W. Anderson, Petra Miller, and Kurt Dinan—explore the ramifications of that overheard question, their journeys leading backward in time and outward from the café, but each tale is tied inextricably to one locale, to one accidental grouping of intriguing (if not particularly estimable) people, to one overwhelming sense of darkness, horror, and death.
By the time I finished, I had learned two things: the authors involved in Tales from the Yellow Rose are without exception excellent storytellers, crafting neat, concise accounts perfectly in character with their narrators; and, if I ever travel through Texas on my own way to Oblivion, I know one place that I do not intend to visit.