There’s no question that author Graham Parke doesn’t just march to the beat of his own drummer, dude’s jitterbugging to a full orchestra playing a tune only he can hear. Anyone who’s read his delightfully odd novel No Hope for Gomez! understands this.
Fortunately for readers Parke is able to channel that mysterious and magical music in his head into his writing. The twenty short stories contained in his collection Unspent Time are a perfect reflection of Parke’s unique brand of insanity, not to mention a great way to make his acquaintance if you’ve not already.
And to be sure, Parke oddities abound in Unspent Time. For example, did you realize that every license plate you see contains a hidden message of some sort? You would if you read “Goki Feng Ho,” which explains the ancient Chinese art of decoding license plates. And while calling an exterminator to investigate the paranormal goings on in your house normally wouldn’t seem like the best way to go about things, it makes perfect sense if, like the poor bloke in “The Hunted,” your house is indeed haunted… by rats.
Perhaps the most classic example of Parke’s wonderful weirdness is on display in “Carbon Copies,” in which the world wakes up one morning to find approximately one fifth of the population has been perfectly replicated. A bonus in situations where brilliant scientists now have two of themselves to devote to solving the world’s problems, not so much for people like our story’s narrator who finds himself now married to Maude1 and Maude2. And what do insurance companies do? They only contracted to cover one person, so who is the “real” insured? Not to mention, can one copy collect unemployment if the other is working? It’s quite the complicated, and clever, mess.
The real standouts of Unspent Time, however, are the stories where Parke dials down the insanity a bit, taking instead a more contemplative approach. “Dear Damian” is an intensely moving story presented in the form of emails of fatherly advice a dying man pre-writes for his young son to read as he grows up. “Discontinued” also deals with death, showing the absolutely devastating and disorienting consequences that result when one has someone close to them ripped away prematurely and unexpectedly. But it’s the title story, “Unspent Time,” that is unquestionably the gem of the collection. Everyone has had those moments where they’ve wondered what could have been, what life may have turned out like if a different decision had been made at a critical juncture, a different path taken. “Unspent Time” is an enchanting tale wherein people get the opportunity to follow up on those moments, to live out their lives’s ‘unspent time’ and see how things could have been.
The stories in Unspent Time range from bombastic and bizarre to profound and moving, and many of them are even further enhanced by notes from Parke following the story giving insight into where the idea for the story came from. And while it may be that not every story in the collection strikes your fancy, I guarantee there will be enough that do – and one or two that really connect – to ensure you won’t be wasting time with Unspent Time.