Notice: While many people who read this book will be reading it after Anchored, I read it before.
Whenever I read a story that I either really enjoyed or didn't expect to enjoy, I never know what to say. I don't want to gush over it, because I hate giving high expectations that could lead to disappointment--not because the story isn't good, but because the expectations were so high.
That being said, I did enjoy this collection of five short stories, two chapters from Anchored, and a selection from Counterpunch by Aleksandr Voinov. Aside from her collection of stories Sublime, I haven't read any of Haimowitz' work. That, in addition to coming at this collection backwards (having not read the book it's a prequel to), I was worried I wouldn't get it.
I needn't have. The five stories were delightful, all of them bittersweet with an aftertaste of hope. Although each was only a few pages, the characters leaped off the page and many straight into the heart. The bonus chapter previews were enticing enough that the books are now ensured a higher rank on my to-read list.
One last note: I do enjoy the concept of slaves, in fiction. If this is not to your liking, reconsider reading this (although don't discount it completely).
Writing. Each of the stories is short, but the concise yet exploratory writing used every inch of the page to draw out the dynamic of characters and the relationships and show glimpses into a world that the reader wants to see more of:
He looks so sad, standing over there all by himself. Lost, too. This isn't his world, and until he has his letters, it never can be. But the way his calloused fingers caress the books, I know it won't be long. He wants to be one of those boys studying at the table in the corner, surrounded by history and politics and current events.Characters. While each story is a small glimpse at a life, there isn't a lot of plot to speak of. These short stories are mainly character drawings, snapshots of Daniel's life and the men in them, whether they be friends, future lovers, or keepers. We don't see much of them, but what we do see says a lot about them.
Psychology. The character studies are so interesting because humanity and psychology are studied in each vignette as the characters, mainly Daniel, struggles to cope with the idea of being a slave and how people view him because of this and, incidentally, how he views himself. A good, if brief, look inside the mind.
Nothing in the stories was weak (aside from the fact that, as it always is when the stories are good, I want more). The only complaint I would bring up as being an issue is format, and it is for the "bonus" content:
For people already familiar with Anchored, the two chapters taken from that will seem unnecessary. While I can understand why it made sense to put them before Voinov's contribution, I can see some readers frustrated with having to skip over those two chapters to get to the boxers. However, having not read Anchored, it didn't bother me, although I did read all the prequel stories, skip to Counterpunch then return to the Anchored content.