Deborah Coates skyrocketed to the list of authors I will always read when I read her debut novel, Wide Open, in 2013. A western Urban Fantasy managed to perfectly capture the feeling of the American Northwest. My dad’s side are ranchers in Montana, and I spent a lot of time there on my grandparent’s ranch when I was growing up. Reading Wide Open was just a little bit like being back on the ranch, despite being set in South Dakota. Since that time, I have devoured just about everything by Deborah Coates that I can get my hands on. She has only written three novels, but her short stories are equally as fantastic. I was browsing the Kindle Store, as one does, and noticed that she had a couple more stories, which I have never read, for sale. I picked them up and settled in for a lovely few hours.
What Makes a River reminds me a lot of Supernatural. Perhaps that is not a fair comparison to make as humans hunting monsters is an old storyline, but there it is. Beth discovers something in the Lake Michigan is attacking her roommate Sarah. However, Beth is running from her past and her family’s tradition of hunting monsters and she would really, really like it if someone else would show up to take care of the problem. This is quite short, but enjoyable nonetheless. I think it is a pretty good example of Coates’ writing, spare and quiet.
Cowgirls in Space is one that I wish had been expanded a lot more. There is too much left unsaid, and too much that happens off screen that this story could have been easily turned into a novella, or even a novel. To be honest, these kind of short stories bug me. Stories where the tales are a novel brief and not a short story. A group of teenage girls, competitive barrel racers and thus the eponymous cowgirls, find a weird stone that grants wishes. Something terrible happens that splits them up until another event reunites them 8 years later. And that is the whole story. It’s split between the teenagers and the grown women, though told from the POV of one of the girls, and as this takes place in two time periods, it is already far more than most short stories are really able to handle. Add in the fact that you have two major events that happen, plus the hanging plot at the end, and this really does become something that could be extended quite a bit. The style of the story falls well within Coates wheelhouse, as she manages to capture the hard work of ranch life while injecting a bit of the fantastical. I feel a bit greedy asking this to become a novel, but as a short story it just doesn’t quite work.
I really enjoy Deborah Coates’ style, and her ability to tell stories about the rural Midwest with just a bit of magic interjected. These two stories are decent examples of her work, but I’m not sure I’d pick either of them as an introduction to her.