This has to be one of the best books I've ever read and that's saying quite a bit given that it's an anthology and it's quite easy to hit a wrong note when there are so many authors playing. But everything is perfectly pitched and simply took my breath away. Picture a roller coaster and the building up to the first hill, the amazing view and breath taking realization that the world is just about to drop out from underneath your feet and then the heart pounding twists and drops that follow. That's the ride that this anthology takes you on, just when you think ok I've got this yet another drop or twist just steals your breath again.
It started off with Arvin's story, which not surprisingly is poignant, thought provoking and tightly woven. It's yet another peak into this man's amazing mind. This was just the start of the brilliance however. Next we have Roux and while I was slightly unsure how she'd fit in with this group, those doubts quickly evaporated when I was introduced to the men of 211. Their story was quick, brutal and passionate. Without being preachy or melodramatic she gave a voice to a group of men fighting a losing battle for their lives and yet finding the humanity to love despite the futility of their situation. Peterson was unflinching in revealing the deepest darkest and most depraved parts of the human soul. It was dark, violent and brutal but I couldn't look away. When I just think that I've been treated to the most heart wrenching story up came Huffman-Black who in just 3 and a half pages managed to steal my breath. He held no punches when he introduced a character that I related to and then unflinchingly delved right into the heart of human pain with his masterful ending. McAuley reminded me of my first love and how bittersweet endings can be and that sometimes endings are really just a beginning of something better. Then there's Klune's John and Jackie. I can understand why he had troubles writing this in earlier drafts, because frankly he needed Arvin to show him what such devotion is like. The story is raw, real and unforgettable. The life time of love that Klune is able to show us in such a short space is masterful. From first to last kiss John and Jackie are what we all want in love and yet so few of us find. Klune manages to write a love story that's poignant and not overly sentimental. John and Jackie just are, and that's how it was meant to be.
This is one anthology that left an indelible mark and when I recover from my first trip into the Crack I fully intend to revisit these stories multiple times. I simply can't convey how simply amazing and masterful this collection of stories is. These are once in a life time journeys and together they create one hell of a ride. I wasn't overly familiar with many of these authors prior to this anthology but I trust Arvin’s brilliance and once again it paid off.