The World Outside the Window
edited by E.Don Harpe

RJ Buckley, 2008, hardback & Kindle
First anthology? Yes

Authors: Mark Terence Chapman, Pamela K. Kinney, D. K. Christi , Anthony Waugh, Rebecca Buckley, Woodrow Walker, Morgan St. James, Robert A. Meacham, Jay Osman, Larry L. Evans, B.W. Philpot, Jim Wilsky, Tory Lynn, Lana M. Ho-Sheing, Matthew Alan Pierce, Erin Gordon, Curtis M. Hendel, Richard Lord, E. Don Harpe

"One blistering hot July afternoon, Lorene’s salvation did appear, although at first glance it didn’t seem to be the kind she’d been praying for.

That was the day Henry Brooks came walking up the road.  ...The smile didn’t fool Lorene. Angelic looking or not, all Lorene saw was trouble."

Reviewed by Avis Hickman-Gibb

I was asked, and I procrastinated for a couple of months. I dithered and stopped and started. Maybe I’d get it done reading it in bed - but it was too bulky. Perhaps I could just pick it up when I had a spare few minutes and get through it that way? No, it seems. Or maybe I could settle to reading it when I was on the train with nothing more to do than stare out at the scenery whizzing by - nada on that one, too.

Ok I admit it, I am old fashioned. The reason I took so long to review this book is because it was presented to me as a PDF file, and it was mounted on my laptop. So if the rest of this review is skewed, forgive me. What I don’t want to do is scroll backwards and forwards and read the words from a palely glowing screen. To me it smacks too much of work to be able to enjoy the process of reading the stories. I found myself in editor mode, as I am when I read my own stuff through - that should be a semi colon not a comma, I’d have started a new paragraph there, and on, and on.

Apparently I don’t do reading for fun from a screen. Who knew? And yes I know this is so non-eco friendly. And I have thought about the rainforests – but I don’t seem able to help myself. I admit I like paper to hold and flick through; stick my fingers in to turn back to that section about...

But enough of my excuses, let’s get back to the stories. There are 19 of them all by Amazon shorts writers – by which I mean writers who work is obtainable through Amazon, not that the people who reside in South America and who are height challenged. The unifying premise is simple - you are asked to imagine a building with 19 windows, through one each of which a different writer views the outside world and hence the stories unfold.

There is a mixed bag within. And some I did think could do with a stringent editor’s pen through their grammar, then I realised that the writers were not born English but American; and so we have the perennial UK versus US version usages of English. So given that, let’s get going on the stories.

The first gem of this collection for me was Saying Goodbye to Miss Molly. If Ms. St James will forgive a comparison, it was approaching Alan Bennett’s level in its “talking head” pathos. I could see the old lady as she wound down her life, hear that life come alive again for one last time through her memories. My one quibble was – for me - an ambiguously sad ending. Was she reunited with her lost love or was it just a figment of her imagination? I so wanted it to be the first.

The stories preceding it while diverse and competent didn’t make the impact that Miss Molly did. However, I did think Rose’s Question by D. K. Christi was charming in its intent – but I found the conversations between the main character and her young inquisitor a tad unbelievable; the language seemed far too sophisticated for use to a child. But the premise was unusual and it caught my interest.

I loved Neal’s Noel. It was well written and utterly charming – even with the very tenuous link to the collection’s premise. I am a sucker for good stories about children. And I hope the author Jay Osman won’t be offended if I tell you it reminded me strongly of Louisa M. Alcott’s work, and I think that is a great achievement.

Next up is The Mailbox by Larry L. Evans. This is yet another talking head piece, which is both sentimental and horrific - dealing as it does with topics as diverse as the Vietnam War to incestual child abuse. It is a solid tale, with a beautiful, wistful finish. Maybe it could be improved by a prune, but overall it worked for me.

Now when we get to Strange Dreams by B. W. Philpot and Only There was No Wind by Jim Wilsky the stories only come together in the final paragraphs. For much of the body of the first story I was wondering where the link with the collection’s basic premise was – the looking out through a window thing? And in the second, there was a little too much of it going for me. And they both gave too much nostalgia in a sitting. But then the final paragraphs burst upon the reader and they are bursting with originality. A pity so much of the stories are in set up for their dénouements.

In my opinion the two stories Etude and Smoke Rings are really stream--of-consciousness ventings and I sincerely hope they provided some cathartic healing for the author, Ms. Lana M. Ho-Shing, in the writing. The latter is a firsthand account of the events of September 11th 2001 in New York - a catastrophic day for humanity. But this reader would have preferred this account of the events to be viewed with much greater distance in order to turn the words contained therein into a fully fledged story. In the author’s notes at the end there is a hint of an encounter with a higher being, but as this thread is not carried through into the main body, there is no resolution. But maybe that’s just as in life.

Now Twilight by Matthew Alan Piece didn’t work for me. In my opinion, it could stand a good hard prune. I nearly missed the kernel of honest prose this story carried about life and sudden death in the US forces in Iraq. That section read true. and I would recommend Mr Price to build on that.

The stories which followed were less substantial. This Time Forever by Erin Gordon is a slight piece about a lover’s misunderstanding and it must be said – it could have been told a lot quicker. In Suspicious Activity by Curtis M. Hendel the sudden spine-chilling revelation of the import of his doodles is over powered by the rest of the meandering story. And on to House Arrest by Richard Lord –do we have a metaphor for purgatory, or is there some annoyingly sinister agency at work here, locking up randomly chosen people for their own furtherment?

I am sorry to say but that by this point I was a little tired of the by now well worn devices of soldier, lovers walking hand in hand, beautiful women on a benches, children playing ball and dogs wagging tails being observed outside the various windows in several of the stories. Were they all they same ones, I wondered? What busy characters they were. As devices they grated in the repetition.

Then finally, we have Killing Frost by E. Don Harpe. This skillfully weaves a tale set firmly in the American South in the mid 1930s. The flavour of the story is keen and very tangy; the crisp writing puts us right there with the characters. The story is well crafted and reaches a poignant – if rather hurried – conclusion, telling us of poor Alice who ultimately waits all her life for a ghost.

As I have already said, the format was – for me - against this book from the start, and I freely admit that it might well have coloured my opinions here. But I think as a collection it didn’t work, the repetitions mentioned before jarred and caused indigestion - and in the end just plain grated on the nerves. After some consideration I feel this was problem generated by the rather tight premise in the first place, so I vote to absolve the authors for their innocent parts in this- and when the stories fly free and escape these irritants they mostly all have some kernel of truth within.

Read an excerpt from this collection on

Avis Hickman-Gibb lives in rural Suffolk, England. She gained a BSc. in Environmental Chemistry more years ago than she cares to admit, and worked in the fledgling computer industry whilst still a babe-in-arms. .

Avis' other Short Reviews: Alexei Sayle "Barcelona Plates"

Ian Daley (ed) "Bonne Route"

Gary Schanbacher "Migration Patterns"

"Getting Even: Revenge Stories" edited by Mitzi Szereto
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