Off Beat: Nine Spins on Song
Wicked Ink Books, 256 pages
Review by Benjamin Thomas

Off Beat: Nine Spins on Song is a collection of nine lengthy stories that follow inspiration derived from songs that meant something to each writer. Starting with Basil & Jade by A.G. Henley and wrapping up with Thanksgiving in the Park by R.B. Wood, this collection, while sticking to the theme, is put together in a way that keeps the reader engaged from cover-to-cover.

The potential issue with any themed collection is the possibility of the theme getting stale and redundant by the last story. Off Beat avoids this by not only having a solid collection of stories that, while the majority deal with death and spirituality, are original enough that the theme doesn’t get old. It also limited the amount of stories to only nine. This helps. While each story is lengthy (approximately 8,000 words) having only nine in the collection prevents the reader from feeling overwhelmed, although the length does make it difficult to read in short bursts.

The collection starts off strong with Basil & Jade by A.G. Henley which tackles guilt, love, and suicide. There’s a reason the editors led with this story—it’s the strongest one in the collection. I was instantly hooked on the characters, and while the twist at the end may not have been Earth-shattering it did cause me to raise my eyebrows in slight surprise and appreciation.

My second favorite story in the collection was easily The Boy Who Wasn’t There by Kristi Helvig. Following two young adults as they attempt to escape a city and the reaches of a crime boss they managed to infuriate, the tension never lets up and the pacing remains consistent throughout the story.

While no story in the collection was weak or unenjoyable, there were a two or three that remained less engaging than others. However, even with a few, subtle weaknesses, the quality of the collection as a whole managed to lift even the unfavorable pieces to a solid height.

At the end of each piece is a brief commentary by the author regarding the song that influenced the story. These snapshot interviews provided in extended depth to the story and, in a few cases, provided new insight into plot and characterization. Each of these were interesting to read, especially for the songs that I already knew. The passages gave credence to the idea that everyone experiences music differently. Each song effecting us in a way that others can’t necessarily comprehend.

This review was originally published in Shoreline of Infinity issue 9.