The Woodpecker Menace by Ted Olinger

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The Woodpecker Menace by Ted Olinger

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Lovely short stories about the Key Peninsula on the Puget Sound. Highly evocative, these stories encapsulate rural life with a great panache. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 150 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Picata
ISBN: 0984840036

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The Key Peninsula is a small spur of land on the Puget Sound in Washington state, shaped - you guessed it - like a key. Its resident are disparate and include both incomers and those who'd see themselves as pioneer settlers. But they're joined in a communal sense of island living. It's on a much smaller scale, but I think most British people can feel affinity with identifying as an islander. It flavours our relationship with continental Europe in so many ways.

But life on the Key is also eternally rural. Your neighbours live not next door, but miles away down unmade roads. You'll probably be as familiar with the local wildlife as you will with them. And isolated people are often eccentric and idiosyncratic. Why shouldn't they be? They're not bothering anyone. Ted Olinger's stories about his life on the Key evoke all these things and more. A young family, desperate for a good night's sleep, do battle with the Northern Flicker woodpecker who has taken up residence on their roof and whose woodpecking not only keeps them awake but also threatens the physical structure of their home. A not-so-kooky-after-all neighbour nails protest poems to trees. Employing a gardener gets you your very own shaman.

But it's also about lives everyone can recognise. A little boy - a son - conquers his fear of failure and takes his first steps towards playing baseball. A marriage breaks down. A parent dies. These events and emotions are univeral and Olinger blends them seamlessly into his setting.

These really are rather beautiful stories. Thick and sticky with a sense of time, place and character, they are absorbing and thoughtful. But because they feel so honest and full-hearted, they are a simple pleasure to read. I got to the end and went straight back to the beginning for a second helping.

If you like short stories, I can heartily recommend this slim volume. There is a variety of topic and emotional connection, but each is tied to the others with the flavour of rural life and the manner in which the idiosyncratic society on the Key Peninsula rubs along. There's dry humour, life weariness, love, joy and grief. And landscape. I feel a rather wistful longing to visit. The Woodpecker Menace left me wanting more, which is always a good thing. Right?

PS: I can't let this review go without giving a shout-out to Tweed Myer, whose illustrations are simply gorgeous and hit exactly the right note.

Other favourite short story collections include Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan, Collected Stories by Janice Galloway and A Bunch of Fives by Helen Simpson.

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Buy The Woodpecker Menace by Ted Olinger at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Woodpecker Menace by Ted Olinger at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Woodpecker Menace by Ted Olinger at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Woodpecker Menace by Ted Olinger at

Booklists.jpg The Woodpecker Menace by Ted Olinger is in the Top Ten Self-Published Books 2013.


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Kathryn MacDonald said:

YES!!! Your review is absolutely bang-on. Thanks for for putting into words exactly how I feel about this very talented writer's first collection. And you are right, once you finish, you flip to the front and start all over again. I read this volume on a flight across the US, causing some distubance to my follow passengers as I laughed out loud, then sniffled, then sobbed, as I let these wonderful stories roll over me. Kathryn MacDonald