Short story collections can be judged in two different ways: the individual quality of each story and the quality of the overall collection. This isn’t easy to do with The Hissing of Summer Lawns and Other Stories by G.L. Henson. This slim self-published novel from Wasteland Press is a set of five stories that seem somewhat contradictory in terms of their literary worth.
The stories in this collection are remarkably similar, dealing with characters who seem almost exactly alike, each one struggling with the same themes. Every tale delves deeply into the human psyche to show elements of behavior that can produce intolerable strain. The stories are stressful, and Henson seems to be pushing his characters and his readers to their breaking point, describing tales of woe and deep personal anguish.
The first story, set in the future and Orwellian in nature, describes a world full of war and forced enlistment. This is the only such story to take place in this setting, and it is the weakest of the collection, relying heavily on military jargon. The stories improve slightly as the compilation goes on, each one better than the last.
While the stories improve, Henson’s writing style leaves something to be desired. There are some strange usages of vocabulary. The words are not used in any type of contextual error, but there seems to be an abundance of over-complicated vernacular that doesn’t quite fit with the characters or the events in the stories. Obscenities and slang are often employed needlessly throughout the dialogue, and while Henson writes creative metaphors, he uses them much too frequently. The constant presence of similes in almost every other paragraph cheapens the imagery and robs the stories of their potency.
Despite this somewhat lackluster writing style, a vivid imagination is at work in these tales. The characters all suffer from deep inner conflict caused by both outer conflict (often war and/or death) but also by their own inability to cope with these circumstances. The title story explores issues of corruption and racism in a small town, and the story “Mirror Image” offers an interesting, but ambiguous look at possible madness. The last story, “Blues for Pablo,” is easily the best one, a poignant tale about redemption and forgiveness.
When judged against the heralded ongoing artistic endeavors of literature, this collection of tales cannot possibly compare. However, when considered in context, The Hissing of Summer Lawns is not bad at all. While the technical aspect of the writing is not done well, the tales themselves are decent and certainly memorable. The imaginative aspect of the stories saves The Hissing of Summer Lawns, giving it creative merit. For this, Henson deserves credit for rising above the often sub-standard books that self-publishing produces.