Foreword Reviews

The First Year

97 Stories Distilled from 87 Years of Successful Living

Clarion Rating: 3 out of 5

The First Year collects the fertile, knowledgeable, and imaginative observations and fiction exercises of a retiree who found and embraced his creativity.

D. Burton Smith’s charming, semi autobiographical book, The First Year, includes life lessons and gentle humor.

The book is a compilation of the assignments that Smith was given in a writing group he joined soon after the death of his wife. Having written any number of dry reports, articles, and teaching notes over the course of his long and productive life, Smith now found himself “writing for fun” and enjoying it.

The book includes short stories, microfiction, a science fiction novella, and a memoir, all of ranging lengths. Fifty-word entries are distributed throughout, functioning as staccato interludes and covering subjects as diverse as online dating and getting small children to brush their teeth; they are a mix of imaginative exercises and personal accounts.

The short stories are notable for the breadth of experiences they represent, the knowledge that is apparent behind them, and the range of their narration styles and themes. One follows a cocky college student who learns about self-respect in his accounting class; in another, a man inherits 147 unusual, valuable chess sets from an uncle and turns them into a lucrative traveling art exhibition. Another addresses suicide and business debt as a man steps in to save the family from ruin. Most of the characters are decent, likeable people; most entries include happy endings.

The collection’s science fiction novella, “Nurena,” is less successful than its other stories. It is set on a different planet, whose society’s customs and practices are detailed, though they feel random and are relayed without clear foundations. It contains anachronisms, is heavy on exposition, is light on action, and is narrated by multiple characters, all of which prevent it from coming together by its end.

Human compassion and appreciation of, and connection to, the natural world are recurring themes in the stories; they are repeated in the personalized section at the book’s end. The book’s memoir portion focuses on descriptions: of time spent with grandparents at a cottage in the woods, of adulthood membership in a hunting club, and of family summers at a camp that they visited every year. These entries are nostalgic, clean, and sharp.

The First Year collects the fertile, knowledgeable, and imaginative observations and fiction exercises of a retiree who found and embraced his creativity.

Reviewed by Randi Hacker

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the publisher will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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