Diana Koch is, in many ways, a person who has just reached the prime of her life. This is the irony in the title of her book. She taught school for many years, and once she retired she turned her focus to her writing. Yet, though she is a local author and has self-published her first book, Koch is far more than an amateur writer. This book reveals her great gift for understanding people and their motivations in situations that may surprise you.
Prime Time is a collection of 24 short stories, each with different characters, challenges, and settings. She offers spare information about the place where the story events happen, but she has certainly taken the idea that every story has a problem which must be solved by at least one of its main characters to heart.
These are close studies of humans interacting with each other and their environment, but they are rich. What surprises the reader at once is how deftly she builds her characters, and how different each one is from another. These stories offer surprises, whether Koch is exploring the themes of taunting death (Dancing with Death), assisted dying (Promise Me), finding a soul mate (Looking for Mr. Right), growing into an identity (Albino), stifled creativity (The One in the Middle), ignoring the signs of theft (Waiting for Rhonda), or a detective story (Rats in the Basement).
Koch has the ability to convey her story in simple, readable language, and yet she conveys far more connection to her characters for the reader than those words alone can explain. Her use of language and characters is unpretentious.
Yet, in each story, the reader is taken inside the mind and motivation of the person whose actions propel the tale. Still, she also has the ability to surprise her readers with a twist at the end of the story, such as when a priest counsels a widow (Revelations), or the first story in the book explores the end of a relationship (Goodbye Charlie).
Each of the tales in this book is so succinct, and yet so full, that they give the reader a sense of completion as they end. I imagine that this book is best suited to the bedside table for reading before sleep. One could easily decide to read one story a night and come away with a sense of satisfaction because you have experienced time in someone else’s world each time. With 24 stories in the book, that is almost four weeks of reading pleasure.
Prime Time is a collection of believable tales. These are stories about people who are in their 40s or upward in their years, so they are definitely not “coming of age” tales. And yet, they are narratives about older people who are coming into fresh realizations as each of them is grappling with identifying their purpose in life. Their story may deal with a betrayal, an illness, a regret, or a secret, but they always recognize they are challenged to make the best of the cards that they have been dealt in life.
It would be hard to pick one favourite among these 24 tales. Each one will appeal to a different person. Koch has obviously given the same attention to detail in each story.
Yet, one of the most surprising about this book is just how varied those 24 tales are. Many are set in suburban homes, a few are set on a farm, yet each house is different, and the occupants range from the male author of detective stories (Rats in the Basement), to an old farmer and his dog (When the Dog Barks), to an elderly man who befriends a thieving teen in a way that solves each of their problems (Don’t Blame the Cat).
Their concerns range from finding a companion (When All Else fails), to an abusive husband and father (Before the Flood), to a granddaughter finding the woman who gave up her daughter some 40 years ago (The Sewing Circle).
Koch has a rich imagination but that is not enough to sustain a book of 24 stories all on its own. What makes the book successful is her skill in managing to develop each of those characters and place them in the reader’s attention in a way that causes the reader to care about them from the beginning, through the middle, to the end of each tale. She asks you to embrace an understanding for the people she introduces you to, whatever their walk in life, even as they struggle to address their situation, good or bad – and you do. Koch, herself, has said that writing short stories is as difficult as writing a novel because such care is needed in the structure and development of each character, while the stories are so condensed compared to a novel.
Prime Time is not perfect. There are a very few typos that a copy editor would have caught, but it is both a well-designed book and a terrific storytelling debut from a first time author who promises much good reading in her future books.
You can find copies of Prime Time at The Book Keeper, 500 Exmouth Street, Sarnia, Ontario. Or email your order to email@example.com
Sharon Berg writes poetry, story, book reviews, and non-fiction focused on First Nations history and education. Her work has been published in periodicals across Canada, in the USA, the UK, the Netherlands and Australia. Her books have been published by Borealis Press (1979), Coach House Press (1984) and two chapbooks were published by Big Pond Rumours Press (2006, 2016). In 2016 she read at the GritLit Festival in Hamilton after winning 2nd place for Poetry in the 2015 GritLit Contest.