A System of the Chaotic Mind

A Collection of Short Stories

Fiction - Short Story/Novela
105 Pages
Reviewed on 01/27/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Lesley Jones for Readers' Favorite

In A System of the Chaotic Mind by Katie M Marshall, throughout life, every person has to go through personal highs and lows to learn important lessons. Some more than others have to face experiences that make them draw on their strengths and overcome severe heartache and tragedy. In this collection of short stories, we see a man trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife of fifty years, a girl kidnapped by a delusional father, a schoolgirl fighting to find perfection in herself and others, a young girl whose grief culminates in exposure to some chilling encounters, and a girl who realizes the importance of cherishing every day. The emotional rollercoaster we face can be brutal and unforgiving but to understand ourselves more, sometimes we have to experience trauma to understand the power of our emotional, physical, and mental stamina.

I love stories that make you stop and ponder and this compelling collection of short stories did just that. Katie's style of writing is beautiful, her descriptive narrative relays the emotions of every character perfectly. Each of the characters is dealing with their own personal traumas and have to face some brutal obstacles in order to make sense of the world they live in. What struck me most about each story, particularly my favorite Chess Pieces, was how your mind can perceive a reality that does not exist. The twist at the end of this story was superb too. A System of the Chaotic Mind by Katie M Marshall highlights how vulnerable we can become as we face a stressful life event; our minds can sabotage our perceptions of reality if we allow it. At the same time, we can rise from the ashes and survive these situations, becoming stronger and more self-aware.

Asher Syed

A System of the Chaotic Mind by Katie M Marshall is a collection of original fiction short stories, each independent of one another but all pointing toward the universal theme of pain in all its forms. With the exception of the first story, Rose Garden, about a man with dementia who still finds happiness in his own muddle of memories, all of the stories feature teen girls and a younger child as their main protagonist. Marshall delivers five stories in total. In addition to Rose Garden, the anthology includes My Name is Abby, about a child who clings to a name and a past as her “parents” continually gaslight her; Smoke and Mirrors, about the passing of the torch in the high school Olympics of cliques; Chess Pieces, about a girl who lives in the recesses of her own mind; and Gravity, about a high school senior and her reclusive mother.

I wasn't entirely certain what to expect of a book that promised stories of everyday people in overwhelming situations, but Katie M Marshall is full of surprises with the ambitious A System of the Chaotic Mind. It isn't easy to build an entire arc, develop characters to the point of connecting with them, and provide a satisfying read in the process when each piece is not more than a few pages in length. Thankfully, Marshall has a knack for pacing and packing a big punch in limited space and this makes her work stand out in a crowded field. I was particularly intrigued by the various stages of mental health issues, from agoraphobia to self-harm in the form of cutting, as well as the guilt that threads its way through in deeply personal ways. My favorite story was definitely Chess Pieces and its whopper of a shock ending. The clues were there all along but, my goodness, I was not expecting it to go where it did. Overall, this is a wonderful little read that I have no doubt will be enjoyed by all who decide to pick it up.

Deborah Lloyd

Twists and turns that the reader does not foresee with an unexpected climax (that sometimes leaves the reader wondering) are two features of well-written short stories. In the fictional work, A System of the Chaotic Mind: A Collection of Short Stories, author Katie M Marshall has achieved the goal of impressive short-story writing. Within a few sentences, the setting is clearly established, and the characters emerge with distinctive personalities. For example, in the story called “Gravity,” the personality of Simone is developed quickly. However, the stories of her parents unfold bit by bit; a new revelation in the last few paragraphs change a longstanding perception that Simone has had. It also illuminated how perceptions and the reality of a situation may not match.

The style of writing in each of the stories is concise and easy-to-read. This book is a quick read, and it could be re-read occasionally. Each time, a reader would most likely see new perspectives, building up to the ending of each short story. And each reader will have several favorites within this collection. While many of the characters in these stories are adolescents or young adults, this book would appeal to readers of all ages. In each piece, the four main elements of short stories – character, setting, conflict, plot – are crafted skillfully. Author Katie M Marshall has developed a thought-provoking, entertaining book in A System of the Chaotic Mind: A Collection of Short Stories. For those readers who love the short story genre, this would be a good addition to their libraries.