Taste of Penny, The: By Jeff Parker, 144 pgs. By Kurt

At somewhere around three-quarters of the way through, I realized I recognized one of the tales from this book of short stories from Jeff Parker. It seemed really familiar and I suddenly thought, “Wow, did this guy plagiarize someone else I’ve read?” Then I checked my old reviews and realized that I had actually written about a previous work of Mr. Parker’s, The Back of the Line, approximately three years ago, and this specific tale that read quite familiar was actually from that previous book. Thankfully, the majority of this stuff is new. If there is a theme of this work to be grasped, it’s that of geographical diversity. There are tales from the American West, Russia, Quebec, the World Wide Web, and places not entirely known that give the work here a breadth that is comfortable without being too non-cohesive. While The Back of the Line was not bad by any means, the writing with The Taste of Penny certainly shows improvement with story ideas that seem more interesting and mature in their subject matter. It’s not all about male-female relationships, although that is part of this collection. From the start of the book, the stories come out strong, with an interesting tale about a potential suicide bomber in Russia and a guy who has bitten off the tip of his tongue. I also enjoyed the story of the boy who travels in his father’s suitcase in the luggage compartment on the bus. It was unusual—but not entirely impossible—and allowed me to wonder what it might be like to be in a similar situation.

While in my previous review of Mr. Parker’s work, I kept coming back to Douglas Copeland and Chuck Palahniuk as comparisons, I don’t feel as though there is any of that spirit here and in that sense Parker has found his own voice, which is refreshing. Still, at the end of the day, it’s a bunch of short stories, and, as with such collections, it can be really hit or miss. Some made me smile, chuckle, or got me to think. Others seemed to drag, lacking any sense of connection between myself and the story line or myself and the character(s). There is a moment in most short stories where, upon finishing reading one, I muse to myself what the point or message of the story was. “What was the author trying to get across? Or was there even a point?” More often than not, I found myself not entirely understanding the message when reading these stories. Or worse yet, I didn’t even care. In that sense, it’s hard for me to give this a gung-ho endorsement, but as a word of encouragement to Mr. Parker: when you are “on,” you produce some solid, intriguing material that is certainly laudable. Kurt Morris (Dzanc Books, 1334 Woodbourne St., Westland, MI48186)