Whimsical premises and fantastical plots abound in this collection of short fiction.
Finnegan (Saving Frank Casey, 2008) was a lawyer before writing fiction, and his familiarity with bureaucracy and empty corporate jargon informs these lighthearted stories. The collection has a snappy specificity of place that pops off the page and lends it verve. Without belaboring a description, Finnegan’s reference to the “DramaScent” theatre system in the opening story, “Programming is Everything,” instantly places readers in a weird, futuristic world. At times, though, the particulars are a bit heavy-handed, as in “The Apprentice,” which features a “TV crew from the Jackal Network,” but Finnegan maintains a light touch and a quick wit. In almost every story, the everyday world of the characters is shaken by supernatural or spectacular phenomena. In “Alpha Text,” a research laboratory conducting a cross between time-travel experiments and cryogenics inadvertently clones Christ, while “Songs of the Sea” features what seems to be a kraken but turns out to be something more unexpected. Readers meet a chimpanzee robot, a lawyer who can kill people just by hating them, and what’s either a fallen angel or a psychedelic mushroom hallucination. Finnegan has a talent for coming up with impressive story ideas, but the collection mostly falters in executing those ideas. Though the stories fly by at an entertaining, readable clip, and Finnegan might be applauded for trimming the fat and cutting to the chase, they are more like brief sketches than fleshed-out stories, each ending before fulfilling its intriguing premise. The flat characters don’t help. For instance, after the research scientists discover they’ve brought back Christ, they debate the moral dimensions of their discovery for several pages before the drama promptly resolves itself without much payoff. No character makes a decision or changes in any significant way, and Finnegan tends to let them off the hook too easily. After asking interesting questions that another author might have turned into deeper stories, Finnegan seems content to put the pencil down and call it done.
Intriguing premises that fall short of their promise.