It’s been about a year since I first got the idea for this website/blog and, beyond the obvious challenge of getting off my butt and actually doing it, I spent a good amount of that time agonizing over a very important decision: how do I even start this thing?
Should I write about my own novel, which came out in 2018 and is available on Amazon, please-support-a-budding-writer’s-career-and-go-buy-it-now? Way too self-serving, definitely not my style at all.
Should I re-edit and use the content I already wrote, under a different pseudonym, on another, mostly-abandoned blog that no one knows about? No, that would just be lazy (definitely my style, though), and the whole point of this thing is to start fresh.
“No”, I thought, narrating dramatically to myself, as one does. “I need something new. Something better.”
And then a good friend of mine, Cat Matchuk, went ahead and published her first book, a poetry and short story collection titled 101 Times Captured.
I promptly sat down with 101 Times Captured with the intent of reading it and taking notes. My original goal was to write a concise, mostly-spoiler-free review, as Cat kindly did for my own book. However, I promptly came down with a case of complexity addiction, and thus one reading became two, and a page full of notes quickly became ten pages – not very conducive to anything even close to “concise”.
As such, while there is a spoiler-free review right after this paragraph, I will eventually write another, in-depth post where I will comment on every single poem and story contained in the book. Because I haven’t taken ten pages of notes for nothing, dammit.
OK, on with the review (finally!)
Initial impressions were good, but I have to confess that this isn’t a book that would have attracted my attention in the poetry section of a book store. The reason being that I wouldn’t have been in the poetry section at all – I would likely have found myself in either horror or fantasy, looking at the flashiest/weirdest covers I could find – I’m shallow like that.
This cover is, alas, not anything resembling flashy or weird, but it definitely fits the subject matter, and it gets the job done in giving this book a clean, professional presentation. The book feels good in hand and isn’t intimidatingly thick (insert inappropriate joke here), looks satisfyingly glossy and the cover image – a collection of photographs in sepia tones – evokes a feeling of discovery and curiosity, the same you might get as a kid when you discover an old box of trinkets in grandma’s attic.
Indeed, I found that 101 Times Captured is all about evoking and exploring human emotions. The relatively short book – only barely exceeding its title number at 107 pages (would have been neat if it had been exactly 101 pages, but this is close enough) – is divided into six distinct parts, each containing 3-6 poems and a short story following a theme. The stories are character-driven, focusing on interpersonal relationships, and feature a paranormal element as a framing device.
In order, the six parts of the book are: Art, Love, Loneliness, Darkness, Death, and Hope. Despite half of these things being depressing, and the “Darkness” and “Death” parts containing the most poems at six apiece (were you trying to tell us something, Cat?), this book is not as somber as it seems.
I mean, it’s plenty somber, but not excessively so. There is an undeniable sense of melancholy throughout the book, but even so, it’s, oh, maybe a 7/10 on the Somber Scale? “Melodramatic” could be another adjective used to describe this book in general, and yet it is not without some lighter, (darkly) comedic elements; for instance, one of the stories features someone getting punched in the face (complete with a gruesome, colourful description of the act that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Mortal Kombat novelization).
Then again, I can only assume that the intent was for the reader to subjectively interpret the book, and so I suppose that 101 Times Captured is only as somber as I make it out to be.
And that, above all else, is what I most liked about this book: it made me think. Sometimes the meaning I saw in a poem or story really connected, and I found myself wondering if Cat might have been inspired by a show I watched, or a game I played. Sometimes I just found the prose beautiful, without necessarily knowing what the hell the words were even supposed to mean. Sometimes the themes made me reflect on life, and often, they made me reflect on my own writing.
In fact, if I had to find a unified theme to this book, I’d go with those two: life, and writing. In many ways, 101 Times Captured seemed to be about the writing process; about all of the stages a writer has to go through in order to finally conjure up a completed work. And it’s fundamentally also about life – specifically, about being imperfectly, defiantly human, with all of our joy and sorrows and attempts at connecting with one another, with varying amounts of success. Because, truly, what inspires a writer if not our own lives, and those of others that end up touching our own?
Yeah, OK, after this uncharacteristically saccharine moment, I feel the need to try and find something I didn’t like about the book. Erm, let me see…
Well, there are some poems that didn’t “connect” as much for me, though I suppose that’s to be expected; very rarely will anyone ever buy a music album (remember those? I’m old…) and fall in love with every song on it – the same applies here.
Also, I did catch a few typos and grammar errors; these are scarce enough to not be deal-breaking as far as I’m concerned, but I’m actively looking for nitpicks, so there.
I also had a few issues with dialogues in the “Darkness” short story (IE, not knowing at times who was speaking to who), although I should specify that:
1. I am easily confused, and;
2. Since that particular story is essentially about blurring the lines between two people, this might have been intentional (which would make it brilliant, in a meta kind of way).
Since I couldn’t help but veer back into stuff I liked about this book, I feel the need to mention its internal presentation, which I particularly appreciated. Not only are the pages crisp and thick (insert another inappropriate joke here), each section and short story is heralded by a full-colour picture related to the topic of said section/story. Many of them work on multiple thematic levels, and I found myself wondering a couple times whether story elements had been inspired by the photograph, or vice-versa.
In case it wasn’t clear from this “review” so far, I rather enjoyed my time with 101 Times Captured. Sure, I’m not exactly unbiased; my friend published a book and I’m kind of excited about that. It should also be noted that I don’t read a lot of poetry as a whole, and so any “review” of mine in this regard should be taken with a hefty grain of salt, as I’m far from an expert on the subject (or on any subject, for that matter).
This said, while change (IE, launching a website!) is daunting, and going out of one’s comfort zone can be, well, uncomfortable, this is a book that, to me, was definitely worth the two trips, and may well warrant a third one in the near future.
Visit Cat’s website at https://cantnotwrite.com/. If you liked reading about her book, you’ll probably enjoy the actual thing; buy it here!