By: Duane Simolke
There is perhaps no greater compliment which can be paid to an author than for a reader to say that they felt “part of” their story. That is when a writer knows that they have woven their craft in such a way that full engagement has been attained. When the reader closes the book, they still feel part of that world. This is something which Duane Simolke absolutely achieves in his book, The Acorn Stories. For those who are searching for a book which is written so well that you are able to enjoy a respite from reality and enter into a fictional world…this is the book for you!
The Acorn Stories is actually a collection of short tales which are woven together as one book. There are 16 short stories in total and they describe the lives of various people who live within the small rural town of Acorn, Texas. Each tale is distinct in its own right, but by the end of the book we are able to see connections and correlations between the characters. Never one to reveal too much about the plot in my reviews, I can assure readers that each short story is captivating and intriguing. From a young pair of control driven lovers who cannot seem to get things right, to a widow unexpectedly looking for love, only to have the quest upset by a pet cat! We are able to meet a vile young man looking to find a woman who can act as his meal ticket, to a despicable gay mayor who maliciously targets the owner of an art gallery. We are able to meet a young boy who seeks to protect the rest of his family from an abusive father. That is followed up by a deaf and gay school teacher who clashes with the high school football coach. Without a doubt, all of these story ideas could carry an entire novel on their own.
While each of these tales is unique, they all have one thing in common… the ability to ignite our emotions! Whether it be sadness, anger, happiness or contempt, each story will stir some sort of emotion within the reader depending upon their own personal circumstances and life experiences. For instance, I could entirely relate to “Keeping A Secret”, which brought forth seething anger. I was then quickly calmed down and consumed by sadness as I read “knock.” This ability to capture the raw emotions of his readers is an ingenious tool used by Duane Simolke. He is able to achieve it through beautiful writing and compelling character development.
When analyzing a collection of short stories, it can be difficult to establish what the overall theme might be. However, in this case I believe the theme is clearly about the various characteristics and situations which comprise the human condition. We are able to see this through the events and clever dialogue of characters who are all unique in their own way. We are introduced to heroic, pathetic, confused and very determined characters in these stories. The ability to present this theme through intriguing interaction and dialogue showcases the author’s impressive writing skills.
While the plot, characters and theme of this book are entirely engrossing, the setting is a key element which allows for such effectiveness to occur. If the stories had taken place in a large, urban environment, they would not have garnered the same impact. The small, rural town atmosphere makes the tales entirely believable. A common trait of small towns is that everyone knows each other. This was absolutely a required condition to make all the stories clearly work and come together as one. This author thought of everything!
In regards to a reading audience, this collection of stories would be appropriate for Young Adult and up. There really is something for everyone in The Acorn Stories. The writing is excellent and has a poetic quality to it. Having now discovered this author, I will certainly be reading and engaging with more of his work.