Monday, May 9, 2016

Review of The Bible Repairman and Other Stories by Tim Powers

Tim Powers is certainly best known for his novel-length work—The Anubis Gates, Last Call, The Stress of Her Regard, Declare, and the like.  What fewer people are aware of are his talents as a short story writer.  Admittedly not prolific, he nevertheless puts the same attention to detail into his shorter works.  Not forcing epic storylines into twenty or so pages, everything is appropriately scaled to suit his writing style.  The Bible Repairman and Other Stories (2011) is a good example. 

Opening with the strongest two entries in the collection, the title story “The Bible Repairman” is about a haunted man involved in spiritual work.  Now a simple eradicator of troublesome bits of the Bible for customers needing absolution, he once was, however, a kidnapping negotiator for ghosts.  His soul sapped to its dregs as a result, the weight of his own daughter’s death, and subsequent kidnapping of her ghost, hangs heavy, resulting in a dark, personal story with more than a few hints of run-down suburban magic to broaden the scene.  “A Soul in a Bottle” is about a rare book dealer who has a remarkable encounter on Hollywood Boulevard putting three pennies in Jean Harlow’s hand prints.  With a touch of voodoo and poetry, Powers tells a semi-familiar tale in rich style.

Occupying the middle of the collection in suitably middling fashion are three stories.  The first is “The Hour of Babel.” A fallen angel story perhaps unlike any other, this story of a team trying to piece together an event years in the past is fully genre without ostentation, but at times can be a bit too clever for its own good.  The shortest story in the collection, “Parallel Lines” is about a dead twin trying to get back into the world through the writing hand of her sister.  And in “A Journey of Only Two Paces,” when a friend commits suicide, it’s Kohler’s job to collect on the will. Getting in over his head with cats and kabbalistic magic, everything turns out not as simple as he had hoped.

A prime example of Powers’ fame for secret histories, closing out the collection is “A Time to Cast Away Stones,” a story at novella length.  A return to the Europe of The Stress of Her Regard, this time around, however, Powers ignores Byron and Shelley and focuses on Trelawney, recasting Trelawney’s own “reality heightened” autobiography to re-tell his time as a privateer in the Greek foothills, and the bizarre murder attempt which finds him living out a local legend.

In the end, The Bible Repairman and Other Stories is a solid collection that displays Powers’ talents, talents that have certainly matured since the author’s early years.  There are no timeless stories in the collection, but each has its own singular level of detail, idiosyncrasy, and subtle layers of plot.  The title story arguably the strongest, most readers, however, will probably enjoy “A Time to Cast Away Stones.”

The following are the six stories collected in The Bible Repairman and Other Stories:

The Bible Repairman
A Soul in a Bottle
The Hour of Babel
Parallel Lines
A Journey of Only Two Paces
A Time to Cast Away Stones

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