Each short tale offers a temporary time machine that transports readers to a simpler way of life, perhaps one that mirrors one's own childhood, such as it did for me.
The sounds, sights, and smells described within each tidbit reminded me of growing up in the country with nature as my backdrop and soundtrack each day, gathering with friends and family each Sunday to discuss the morning church service or the latest local happenings, while noshing on delectable dishes prepared with love and a smidge of sugar (or salt).
I thank the author for writing this book as a reminder to appreciate the simple things in life because, in the end, they're the most important ones.
My favorite line that sums up the entire book is:
Choices make up every day of every person's life. Gretchen Falls is a town too tame for some and they choose to move to a place that is bigger and more exciting. For that contented soul who values simple pleasures and a simpler way of life, it is the perfect fit - an oasis in a dry, unfeeling world.
While this book would benefit from a professional edit, its message will ring loud and clear in the hearts and minds of its readers, because it's obvious the author poured his heart and soul into every word.
Author Les Farley presents this comforting vision in the short story collection of Gretchen Falls. Each story focuses on a character and in a calm, encouraging way, shows how that person faced their own challenges and opportunities. I enjoyed the story about the day of the annual church picnic, because that resonated with my memoires of the excitement and fellowship of such a day.
Each of these short stories is written like a devotional reading, with an uplifting message. There are references to Christianity and scripture. Because this is a thoughtful read and different from the books I usually choose, I was interested to learn more about the author of these stories. This is part of Mr. Farley’s biography, taken from his Amazon author page:
Although I started this journey a little late in life (54) I suppose it was inevitable that I take this road since I've always had a very active imagination. My friends at work and church know me as comical, childish and fun loving. I am the eternal optimist and that is how I am able to bring these ideas out of my mind for the rest of the world to read. Ultimately I must thank God for his kindness and for giving me the ideas...
Mr. Farley wrote his stories in the present tense with the voice of an all-knowing omniscient narrator, which was an awkward style at first for me, but as I became accustomed to the presentation,
I found the tales of the imaginary town of Gretchen Falls to be pleasant and comforting. Also, this might seem trivial, but it bothered me that one character’s name was spelled Burnadette instead of the more usual Bernadette. Maybe there is an interesting story behind the spelling of the name?
A quote from the book, But as we all know, challenges lay in everyone’s path and they can present themselves at the most inopportune times. Most readers will be happy to visit Gretchen Falls!
More Than Just A Picnic is a wonderful piece that explores the theme of moving on from the past and having the faith to explore a new beginning, particularly in opening up one's heart to romance. As Farley notes, there is something desirable about the simplicity and innocence inherent in those bygone years of children. Farley writes: "...if only there was some way to find a fold in time and escape through that fold." Life has challenged Gretchen Falls' sheriff Alan in a heartbreaking way so it certainly makes sense that the past offers a comforting remedy. Yet, what Farley does is allow Alan to move beyond the scars of his painful past. This story isn't burdened by its short length. Rather, Farley succeeds in making the most from his characters', their emotions, and his descriptive skill in allowing Gretchen Falls to come alive for the reader.
Gassed Up is a delightful story about Gretchen Falls' Pastor Veed. What I liked about this story is its honest simplicity. Church is the bedrock for many people and community and Farley gives us a sense of who Pastor Veed is by placing the pastor in a deadly situation that tests his faith and compassion.
What makes a person so determined to isolate himself from humanity? Yet, even the person who is an unapologetic introvert refusing contact with most people will travel outside of his comfort zone for the person he loves. Farley proves this theory in his story Heart of Stone. This story serves to remind us that we are all a product of our past and that the scars from the pain of feeling unwanted or not belonging tend to sculpt the person we become as adults. However, Farley's story gives optimism despite the emotional undertone. One might argue that even a "heart of stone" sports a compassionate beat.
Grief and healing should unite in a partnership of hope, but often, enormous pain puts our lives at a crossroads. Farley sensitively tackles the pain of loss in his story Crossroads. I was moved by Farley speaking of a "treasure chest of memories" and how "time becomes a friend" when dealing with the grief of someone who has passed away.
Can a silent voyeur spark fear? Or, can there be harmless innocence to the person watching us? Can the person watching be that person who wrestles against his own demons in order to save others? Farley addresses these questions in his story Ben. Mixing psychology with a poetic eloquence (I loved Farley's reference to the phoenix arising from the ashes), once again, Farley proves that he can endow fictional characters with satisfying and realistic believability for the reader.
Holding Out tells the story of Eli, a middle-aged Gretchen Falls reporter who longs for a big story. But Gretchen Falls is a calm metropolis where the newspaper has no exciting stories to boast. Fortunately, Eli is having a meal at the local diner when a big news story falls into his lap.
Finally, the short story Luke wraps up Farley's short story collection of Gretchen Falls. Like the previous tales, Luke gives us an eclectic character that mirrors human emotions and experiences.
I can offer only one complaint about Gretchen Falls: I wish this book was longer. But then again, Farley proves the belief that "the best things come in small packages." If you want a marvelous book to entertain you this holiday season, I highly recommend Gretchen Falls: A collection of short stories by Les Farley. I give this book a Gold Book Worm Rating.