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Monday, December 02, 2002

Book reviews of The Acorn Gathering (so far)

Review by L. L. Lee , author of The Sisters: Found in San Antonio

Duane Simolke's follow-up anthology to The Acorn Stories, The Acorn Gathering, is a study in human trials, triumphs and the power of relationships to hurt or heal. The book is a gathering of moving short stories written by a group of talented writers who call themselves "Writers Uniting Against Cancer." All royalties go to the American Cancer Society. As expected, many of the stories deal with often tragic health issues: cancer, depression and other forms of mental illness, alcoholism, obesity, suicidal ideology, unwanted pregnancy. Some of the characters triumph over their conditions while others do not.

In the midst of these life threatening issues that are handled in sensitive and inspiring ways, there are moments of laughter. Duane Simolke's "Fat Diary" is hilarious and could very well be expanded into a funny, uplifting novel. A simple love story by Bill Wetzel, "A Morning by the River" needs to be commended for reminding us of the pure joy of falling and being in love. And "The Gun" is well worth mentioning for its humorous, light treatment of a not so funny situation.

The Acorn Gathering is a good read. If you're looking for characters that fit the mold of traditional, you won't find them here. The book is like a warm, pleasing quilt made up of disparate, yet cohesive patches represented by characters of various ethnic backgrounds; among them, African and native Americans, Hispanic and Anglo Americans and with a few Texans sewn in.

Review by W. Brian Moore

It was an extreme pleasure reading The Acorn Gathering. The talented groups of writers have put together a wonderful collaboration of short stories. What makes this an outstanding buy is that all the royalties go to the American Cancer Society for cancer research. I highly recommend you go, buy copies for yourself and your loved ones, and enjoy reading this well-written book.

Each story in The Acorn Gathering deals with situations in life that most of us can easily relate to and have experienced. They deal with breast cancer, life on an Indian reservation, struggles of gay life in a small town, losing weight, divorce, coming to terms with feelings of a abandonment, and a wonderful story about a hero who goes to New York City to help after the September 11 Terrorist Attacks, just to name a few. If you think none of those stories sound like you, wait until you read them and experience the way each writer brought those issues into a world we all understand. I found myself caught up in several of the stories, feeling at times, that they were about my own life. This collaborative work, even though it is made up of different short stories, has a common thread that runs throughout the book that gives it an unbroken flow. One story seems to flow right into the next even when they are dealing with new people and new topics. This book has been put in a perfect reading order.

The first section of the book, “Acorn, Texas” begins with “Finding Acorns in Winter” by Duane Simolke. This story begins years back when the Indians inhabited the land where Acorn, Texas, now stands. The story goes back and forth between the time of the Indians and the present time where a woman is in the hospital after just having breast cancer surgery. The relationships between her daughter and her nurse, an American Indian, is beautifully written. It is a story of love and hope in dealing with “the silent killer,” breast cancer.

“The Seedling” by Janice Chandler is next. This story revolves around the relationship between two sisters, one a struggling artist. As with many of our relationships with our siblings, it shows how we often wish we had their lives instead of being grateful for our own. It deals with an unwanted pregnancy and the loss of the child during a moment when the artist’s work is beginning to be noticed.

Next, we have “Fat Diary” by Duane Simolke. This is one of the most humorous stories in the book and one of my two favorites. A woman, through her diary that she is told to keep while trying to lose weight, relays the events and happenings of her life. Many aspects of this story are easy to relate to. It is the conflict resolution and the woman’s ability to see things happen as she writes them that makes this piece so appealing.

The next two stories, “Again” by Duane Simolke and “Lynching” by Huda Orfali, deal with gay life in Acorn, Texas, a town of 21,001 people. “Again” introduces us to the characters and “Lynching” continues with those characters and addresses and an issue all too familiar in the gay and lesbian community, gay bashing. The twist of the storyline will cause you to think. It is another reminder of how selfless some human beings are.

The second section of the book is entitled “Beyond Acorn.” The stories in this section deal with the world outside of Acorn, Texas. There are insights into other ways of life that I found myself unaware of.

The first story in “Beyond Acorn” is “Nachos Are Green And Ducks Appear To Be Blue At Town Pump In Cut Bank, Montana” by Bill Wetzel. Life on an Indian Reservation is depicted in this well-written story. It addresses the high percentage of alcoholism and the general welfare attitude that seems to be so prevalent on them. This story of a group of men who are friends tells itself well.

“As I Lay Dying” by Huda Orfali is next. It is set in a boarding school and they are having trouble with a boy who has lost his parents. This is a story of kidnapping, child abuse, and the love given by the school’s psychiatrist, who reaches out to help the boy. This story keeps you wondering all the way to the end about what really happened.

“The Flamenco Painter” by Shawna Chandler deals with the strained relationship between a father and his alcoholic son at Christmas time. This piece focuses on traditions south of the border, about assisted suicide and the grief the son has carried. It challenges your beliefs and makes you think about the gray area within assisted suicide.

Next are “The 23rd of August” by Timothy Morris Taylor and “A Morning by the River” by Bill Wetzel. These are clearly the love stories of the book. For those of you who have experienced true love, these stories will help you relive those feelings that exist when you met that special person. For those of you who have not, you will yearn for that person even more after reading them.

“Dancing with Angels” by Huda Orfali is a very short story in the book. It shows one’s acceptance of knowing the end of life is near and being willing to cross over. What it does not have in quantity it truly makes up for in quality. This is a wonderfully written piece.

“The Gun” by Janice Chandler is a poignant story that many of us deal with today, that being, whether or not we should own a gun for our own safety. This is the murder mystery of the book, dealing with the relationship between a husband and wife. It is suspenseful and poetically ironic up to the very end.

The last section of the book, “Still Beginning,” contains one story by Duane Simolke entitled “The Last Few and the First Few.” Of all the stories, I liked this one the best. It deals with the issues of abandonment by a parent, being raised by a single mother, struggles in life and marriage, divorce, and dealing with the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The main character goes to New York City to help with the search and rescue at the World Trade Center. This story is moving beyond words. I found myself in tears many times throughout it, tears of sadness and tears of utter joy. This story is a beautiful ending to a great book.

The Acorn Gathering has something for everyone. The stories will provoke happiness, laughter, sadness and sometimes anger. Each is an extremely poignant view into the life of people who are all around us. The subject matter is so diversified that not only will you enjoy this book, it will open your eyes to the broader picture of how life exists for others around you.

As a person whose life has been greatly impacted by cancer, I applaud the writers of The Acorn Gathering for sharing their talents with us through these stories and for giving the proceeds to help find a cure for those with cancer. The American Cancer Society is a responsible choice to receive these funds. Your contribution by purchasing this book will be well spent. No better gift can be given to someone who is suffering from cancer, than hope. Your support of this book will do just that.

Review by Lisa at Book Review Cafe

I'll tell you the number one greatest thing about 'The Acorn Gathering' right off the bat is that all the proceeds from the sales of this book go right towards cancer research. I think that is wonderful, and I encourage you to pick this book up today at your favorite bookstore!

All the stories you will read here are very unique. Some teach a lesson, some are sad and some make you think. These are all very talented writers, and I'm glad they got together to have a compilation of their stories in one book.

Some stories that really stood out to me were; 'Fat Diary,' 'Dancing With the Angels,' 'The Gun,' and 'The Seedling.'

I think these authors did a great job with this book. If you would like more information about the book and the authors, please visit: The Acorn

Review by Ronald L. Donaghe, author of The Blind Season

A vision Duane Simolke had for this book was that writers would contribute stories freely and that all proceeds from the sale would go to the American Cancer Society. Perhaps what he did not count on is that this "gathering" of writers has also produced an artistic realization rarely witnessed in anthologies. The various and individual voices of each story teller in this collection lends cadence and lyrics like an orchestra to a whole larger than the sum of its parts, from Simolke's humorous and "biting" "Fat Diary" to Shawna Chandler's haunting and beautiful "Flamenco Painter."

Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, and even gay people delightfully form a cohesive voice in the fight against cancer and prejudice and hate. Also given voice, here, is how the destructive cancer of hate can ruin lives, and this message adds urgent notes in the orchestration of the whole. Read Bill Wetzel's two stories and you'll see how two disparate themes are unified by this collection; or read Huda Orfali's work and see how a continuing sub-theme is woven into this smart collection. In all, each story is a note or theme in a surprising whole.