I think writing a quality short story is harder than writing a quality novel. In a novel, there is more room in which to flesh out characters, develop the plot, and portray the intent. With a short story, writing has to be crisper, more on target, and more evocative. A poor author just can't pull it off, and even a good author who puts together a great short story often cannot sustain that story over a series.
In Downside Girls, Jaine Fenn has succeeded on all levels. Her writing style is direct, clean, and impactful, but there is a flow and a degree of lyricism that makes reading her stories a joy. There are shades present that create a fullness that is often lacking in other works.
The stage for these four short stories is deliciously captivating. A floating city is inhabited by the privileged population that lives on top of the city as well as the despised downsiders, the poor people who live under the city and exist on what they can scavenge. However, this is a weird sort of democracy in which politicians are voted not to be put out of office, but to be assassinated. The instruments of the assassinations are the "angels," former downsiders who have been transformed into flying, powerful assassins.
Characterization in all four stories is simply superb. it is remarkable that the author is able to achieve the depth she does in a short-story format, more than most authors can achieve in full-length novels. Of particular note to me was that of the title character in "The Three Temptations of Larnia Mier." While the other three stories were more directly involved with angels, this story looked at a music teacher who, as a result of an injury, was having hearing issues, and her relationship with one of her students. Not much in this story went according to formula. It was compelling reading, drawing the reader into Larnia's world, inter her very being. I felt there was a parallel within the story with the three temptations in the title. On the surface, this was simply a story of a woman and her feelings. On another level, there were analogies to our present world. And on the third level, I think it went deeply into the human condition. While all four stories were great, for me, this one transcended the others and, in fact, vaulted right to the top of my list of best short stories of all time.
I cannot recommend this collection enough.
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