Tim Pratt's first story collection, 2003's Small Gods, was a very enjoyable read for me, with the title story's bittersweet undertone setting the tone for a collection that dealt with many issues that were in turn uplifting and sad. In his latest collection, Hart & Boot, Pratt has expanded his writing repertoire to use a variety of milieu, from the Western to a riff off of Greek mythology, to tales that involve dreams as being the core substance. Most of these 13 stories have appeared elsewhere, but all are collected for the first time in this edition put out by Night Shade Books.
The collection begins with the title story, "Hart and Boot," which according to the author's story notes was based upon historical characters, with only a few narrative liberties taken to describe the historical events. The characters, themselves, have been reimagined by Pratt and Pearl Hart in particular takes on a spunky, feisty personality that might seem to be a bit too much at first, until one notes how Pratt uses this personality type to convey lots of things about gender relations and about the conflict desires that we have. It made an appearance in The Best American Short Stories: 2005 and it certainly was one of the better stories in this collection.
The second story, "Life in Stone," at first did not attract my attention as much, but its ending and its relation to the character makes for a nice tale, although I still believe it to be one of the weaker tales in the collection, perhaps due to a character that is not as sympathetic as those that appear in the majority of the other stories.
"Cup and Table" reads more like a fragment of a another, much deeper tale, something that Pratt alludes to in his story notes. The very notion of the Cup and what it symbolizes makes for a chilling conclusion to the tale, with many unspoken mysteries surrounding the events before the conclusion.
The fourth story, "In a Glass Casket," is told from a kid's point of view and his earnest desire to do the right thing is portrayed in the perhaps-expected awkward way that confused kids trying to do the right thing might view the situation and the world around. While entertaining in places, it was not one of the stronger tales.
The next tale, however, "Terrible Ones," mixes elements of Greek Choral Plays with the ancient concept of a just revenge to tell a story about how confusing the line between "reality" and "fiction" can have devastating consequences. One of the best stories in the collection in my opinion.
The next two stories, "Romanticore" and "Living with the Harpy," were my two personal favorites, as there is this mixture of the mundane with the otherworldly that serves to highlight human confusion, hurt, and desire in ways that makes these stories stand out. In many ways, these stories best illustrate some of the ideas that Pratt plays with in this collection.
The final six stories continue this exploration of human emotion and sometimes of misplaced desire. Each were strong, complementary pieces to the seven mentioned above, making in the end for a collection that ought to be highly sought by lovers of well-written short fiction.
Summary: Hart & Boot is Tim Pratt's second short story collection. These 13 tales touch upon the most powerful of human emotions and desires in ways that highlight our sense of loss, confusion, and of wanting to belong to something that perhaps isn't best for us. Highly recommended for readers, one of my favorite single-author story collections of the year so far.
Release Date: January 2007 (US), Tradeback
Publisher: Night Shade Books