Reviewed by Raquel Thorne
Short Story Collection
e-Book: 99 pages
Publisher: Buckley/Swartz (2014)
Available for $2.99 on Amazon
Mr. Chiardi & Other Stories is a mixed bag of short stories written by Rita Buckley under the pen name Charles Maxwell. “Maxwell” has a fun narrating voice somewhere between Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (the book), and Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (any version), but with his own wacky and whimsical adult twist. Still, perhaps because Buckley’s style is still developing or because her humor has a wide breath, there is a variance in tone among the collection from slapstick to more tongue-in-cheek humor.
Most reminiscent of Adam’s character development, “Fresh Fruit” is a smorgasbord of wacky doctors and patients. Character Bob discusses his patient who talks to oranges (the oranges talk back), Linda commits one of hers because of an insult (he “said I have a pointy little head” and we have no reason to believe she doesn’t) and Dr. von Bent, who himself has “an undiagnosable slipping disorder,” steals the show:
It was love at first sight. Dr. von Bent was walking through the waiting room when he saw Phyllis. He stared at her briefly, then slipped to the floor.
Closer to Silverstein, and truly a child’s story for adults, “Mr. Chiardi” is named for story’s teacher whose students are so concerned about his solitude outside the classroom that they buy him a “demented half-breed” dog “the size of a shoebox.” When this doesn’t cure him of his peculiarities, they volunteer him for a NASA flight. There doesn’t seem to be any question if he’ll go.
Displaying a more delicate humor, “Mr. Jones,” is a story about the “last cat, in the last corner, of the last cage in the animal shelter—a black and grey-striped coon cat with greyish-green eyes and double front paws… at least 16 lbs., with an intelligent look on his face” who could put Hero Cat to shame. Unlike Hunter, the special talking German Shepherd in “The Reconciliation,” Mr. Jones appear to be a normal house cat; however, when his owner is attacked, Mr. Jones jumps to action and saves the day. “Nothing like a well-informed cat,” a poorly-informed cop quips, unaware of how true his statement is. Readers will find fun being in on the joke.
Mr. Chiardi & Other Stories—a collection of 13—is not without its flaws. E.g., “Downhill Run” about a pediatrician who assists with a skii accent is a charming story but sticks out as too serious, too straight-laced, and glaringly lacks the whimsy of the collection of a whole. Likewise, “My Father’s Eyes,” which may be a sentimental nonfiction short, lacks the levity of her more whimsical pieces. The changes in tone make it easy to divide the stories into two groups, those written by Rita Buckley, and those by “Charles Maxwell”.
Ultimately, although it feels like it is written by two authors, Mr. Chiardi & Other Stories is an impressive freshman collection, and at $2.99, a steal. A good read for those needing a little more silly in their lives, but in small doses. Somber beware.
Charles Maxwell is an award-winning freelance medical writer based north of Boston. A summa cum laude graduate of Boston University College of Communication, he attended Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference several times. His short stories have appeared in print and online in Bartleby Snopes, Danse Macabre, Monkeybicycle, Versal, SNReview (SNR), The Anemone Sidecar/Ravenna Press, Storychord, Orion headless, Taj Mahal Review, and other literary journals . They have been featured twice by FictionDaily and nominated for Dancz Books Best of the Web.
Rita Buckley, creator of Charles Maxwell, is also an award-winning freelance medical writer and the author of Childhood Obesity (Mercury Learning and Publishing, 2015).