Tim Powers’ first collection of short fiction in over half a decade, The Bible Repairman and Other Stories is a potent six-story collection that plays effortlessly with many of the author’s favorite themes. Zhlubby, burned-out protagonists, mysterious women, magical rituals that intrude on everyday life – these are familiar to anyone who’s read and enjoyed Last Call, or Earthquake Weather, or indeed most of Powers’ body of work. That doesn’t make the stories any less enjoyable or well-written; it merely places them squarely in the center of his wheelhouse, and ensures that those who’ve gone for his novels will be more than satisfied by the collection.
Many of the stories are set in southern California. “A Journey of Only Two Paces” recounts an attempt to replace a man’s soul with that of a dead acquaintance at a most peculiar Hollywood party, while “Hour of Babel” forces a man to relive a universe-altering encounter with a being from a higher dimension, one that shattered his life decades before. “Parallel Lines” and “Soul In a Bottle” are both about sets of sisters. In the former, a deceased woman tries to get her elderly twin to allow for permanent possession, while the latter is a literary murder mystery with a femme fatale who happens to be a ghost. Perhaps the most notable of the shorter pieces is the title story, which focuses on a man with a most unusual, magical line of work and the price it extracts. In the case of “The Bible Repairman”, as in much of Powers’ best work, any attempt at synopsis fails due to the sheer audacity of the concept and the intricate nature of the plotting; suffice to say that it is memorable, original, and heart-rending.
The last piece in the book is also the longest, and possibly the best: “A Time to Cast Away Stones” is a followup to the much beloved Stress of Her Regard, and a treat for the fans of the more historical efforts that marked the author’s early work. Set among Greek revolutionaries on Mount Parnassus – a site familiar to anyone who knows the classical Greek flood myth – the piece centers on rapscallion, adventurer and professional liar Edward John Trelawny, who has committed himself and his young bride to merging with the otherworldly beings of the earlier work, in exchange for help with their revolutionary work. But when he re-examines the deal, Trelawny finds the cost too high. It’s too bad that the cost of escaping might be even higher.
Fans of Powers’ work should have no qualms about picking up The Bible Repairman, as it offers many of the pleasures of his longer works distilled into smaller bites. First-timers might want to start elsewhere, simply because a full appreciation of “Stones” hinges on having read the earlier piece it’s linked to, but they won’t be scarred or misled by the reading pleasures they find. In summation, it’s an excellent collection that distills the author’s voice in a way that is both a new pleasure and a return to old, favorite territory.