Reposted from LiveJournal:
Jimmy Olsen has done it again! Through his anthology, The Hero of Blind Pig Island and Other Island Stories (a medium more difficult to properly utilize than it seems), the reader gets an accurate glimpse into the outlook of a middle-class North American man, having lived and worked in the Caribbean, with startling clarity. Having spent some time out of my own North American country myself, I thought Olsen very skilfully captured the amalgamation of often confusing thoughts and feelings one harbours regarding one’s home country. It becomes both idealized and irrelevant when away, and the same happens to the country visited upon return ‘home’. One becomes neither a citizen of the United States or the Dominican Republic (Canada or South Korea, in my case), but somehow a visitor and citizen of both. One has become, rather, a citizen of the world. There is a global universality to the tone in these stories that is made somehow clearer by the emphasis on the commonality of human attitude no matter the city, country, or hemisphere.
I enjoyed the emphasis on how deadly the sea can be to those who are not wise enough or interested enough to learn, with the full knowledge that in winter, the prairie (where I come from and where the voice of the piece seems to hail from as well) can be just as deadly. I could see that these stories were drawn even more closely from the author’s own life than his previous book, Poison Makers, and having read that book, was fascinated at the similarity of its main character to that of Clive, the English teacher from Minnesota, who appears frequently in several short stories throughout the book. Both of them are clearly reflections of the author himself, whose writing I have come to consider some of my favourite amongst my entire library.
There were a few annoying spelling and sentence structure errors, and my main beef with the piece was its organization of stories, which I found ended up leaving the reader with a lot of heavy at the end of the anthology. Personal preference would dictate that the title piece be last, simply for its lighter ending, but the theme of respect for the forces of nature and for Death itself is indeed reinforced in ‘Wet Passage’, the final story, so it could have been intentional. Taking that into consideration, I still wasn’t convinced that the final story truly encompassed the message of the work as I would have preferred in a mixed piece like this. My favourite story of them all was ‘Denise,’ the twist at the end of that story being so unexpected, I ended up thinking about it for two days afterward. Possibly my favourite part of this book is the barefaced honesty Olsen uses in his portrayal of family and acquaintances – all of whom are most definitely not perfect. It is the fearlessness in his writing that makes this book so real and so endearing.
I hope someday to be able to write with such clarity and unassuming honesty as Olsen does, to truly capture the human spirit (or at least freely share mine with my readers), as he does. This is the third of Olsen’s works I have experienced, and he has become one of my favourite authors. I highly recommend anything written by him. I give The Hero of Blind Pig Island 4 out of 5 stars for the book itself, but 5 stars for his work in general. Mr. Olsen, you write good books!