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American Innovations: Stories

3.57  ·  Rating Details ·  714 Ratings  ·  109 Reviews
A brilliant new collection of short stories from “the conspicuously talented” (Time) Rivka Galchen.

In one of the intensely imaginative stories in Rivka’s Galchen’s American Innovations, a young woman’s furniture walks out on her. In another, the narrator feels compelled to promise to deliver a takeout order that has incorrectly been phoned in to her. In a third, the petty
Hardcover, 175 pages
Published May 6th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Station Eleven by Emily St. John MandelAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrThe Bone Clocks by David MitchellThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard FlanaganAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay
2015 Tournament of Books Long List
28th out of 72 books — 146 voters
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrThe Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary MantelThe Blazing World by Siri HustvedtThe Bone Clocks by David MitchellThe Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
NYTimes 2014 List
15th out of 50 books — 3 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jan 13, 2015 Stephen rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
The likelihood that I will enjoy a writer who writes with a tangible "for some obscure reason" etched into every utterance is slim. What are we to do with all those connections in our lives that, you know, bind us all together as a people? Nothing. Avoid them. Write in short sentences like these. Characterize them as "all those things I so studiously knew nothing about," which one of Galchen's narrators actually states for the record.

I tend not to read books with sentences like "I tend not to a
Sep 29, 2014 Krista rated it liked it
Before reading American Innovations I hadn't seen the cover blurb that states: The tales in this groundbreaking collection are secretly in conversation with canonical stories, reimagined from the perspective of female characters. I don't know if understanding that beforehand would have altered my reading experience -- I am, at any rate, unfamiliar with Borge's The Aleph and Gogol's The Nose -- so I can only evaluate what I found on the page, and it was a somewhat uneven experience. For the most ...more
Terri Jacobson
Jan 21, 2015 Terri Jacobson rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I quite enjoyed this collection of short stories by Rivka Galchen. The stories are original, unusual, quirky in a good way. From reading the book jacket, I learned that several of the stories are female takes on classic short stories, like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber. I found this added an extra dimension to the reading.
Ksenia Anske
Aug 30, 2014 Ksenia Anske rated it really liked it
This story collection is wonderfully witty and melancholy, or more melancholy than witty, filled with innuendoes that at times I couldn’t understand, being originally not from America, but sensed on some other level. On a universal level. On a level of connection with words and images that stayed with me like bright flashes of every day strangeness. Simple strangeness of existence. Things we do to fill our lives, to think we know where we’re going, when in fact we have no clue.

There are two lev
Jul 27, 2014 Jaclyn rated it really liked it
Galchen's stories are not satisfying in the way short stories are usually satisfying. These stories are not tidy, they twist in the middle, heading in a different direction and then flutter out at the end. But I found that I respected this way of story telling in that it felt more like real life. This is a funny conclusion considering the numerous non-realistic elements in the stories. Yet the stories remained true. I remained entertained and intrigued throughout the collection.

The one story th
Galchen made all kinds of big splash with her first novel in 2008, Atmospheric Disturbances
So readers have been waiting impatiently for a new book. this is of short stories, and they are international, sciencey in the style of andrea barrett Servants of the Map: Stories , some surrealness , so love, but mostly none. Lots of dead fathers and ghosts. Quality writing and stories, like Deborah levy Black Vodka: Ten Stories, not ho-hum shorts, or at least, not so memorable stories in something like
Victoria Weinstein
Aug 09, 2014 Victoria Weinstein rated it did not like it
You know what? I'm tired of this whole style. I don't know what to call it, even. Talented female writers whose characters I can't stand, who seem to be made of nothing but self-obsessive neurosis. I'll just go back and re-read Margaret Atwood's short stories or something. I can't believe so many reviews of the title story failed to see how Atwood-derivative it was.

I'm sure I'll read a few more stories before I return this to the library, but they don't hold together as a collection. It's that l
Jul 14, 2014 Lara rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-fiction
I think I'm suffering from Gregory Maguire Syndrome with Rivka Galchen. I'm just not... I just don't... I can't seem to... The stories and the writing are strange and gorgeous, like odd colourful exciting flowers that you see at the garden centre and then you get them home and try to plant them, but your soil is all clay and the plants can't take root and wither and die. My brain is clay. BUT I did connect to "Wild Berry Blue" omg, so true.
May 27, 2014 Rivka rated it it was amazing
I'm glad I've gotten to a place where I can support other Rivkas in their creative endeavors. How sad it would have been if my exceedingly silly ego prevented me from reading this collection. It was so good. Chekhovian in some ways. And reading it in public felt like this wonderful inside joke with myself. Rivka Galchan, I wonder what your middle name is.
Jul 29, 2015 Jim rated it it was amazing
Many of my reviews here are off the cuff riffs that inform reviews that I write for other publications, namely The Floating Library, my books column for San Diego CityBeat. Sometimes the review I post here is a cut and paste job from a published review. This one is neither. I've written my review and turned it in and I'm writing today to tell you that I'm disappointed in it, and in myself.

I generally don't read other reviews of books I'm reading until I've finished writing the review. I think t
Jun 13, 2016 Ubiqua rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Raccolta di racconti, scrittura creativa americana, classica. Rivka Galchen ne applica le regole a situazioni grottesche, talvolta surreali. Usa per lo più uno stile naturalistico che aumenta lo spaesamento che si prova seguendo le situazioni assurde descritte. Non c’è mai sensazionalismo, non si distacca dal tono ordinario: così, l’inquietante diventa pervasivo, è una componente del minimalismo. Qui a volte si spinge oltre il reale, fino al fantastico.

Alcuni racconti le riescono così bene da r
Syar S Alia
Dec 28, 2014 Syar S Alia rated it liked it
In a way, the meandering endings of some of these stories were a relief - a gradual slackening of something taut and tense as opposed to an abrupt snap. It made me pay attention to the smaller stories contained within the larger one without taking away from the suspense of each story, it made me look for hints and clues and I didn't much mind that they were never really solved (except for in the case of "Dean of the Arts" where I really did want to find out more about Manuel Macheko). My ...more
Heid Zhng
Jul 28, 2014 Heid Zhng rated it did not like it
The thing that kept me away from short story collections (and suspicious of writers famous for them) all these years is that frustrating sense of hope this goddamn form warrants. If a novel is bad, you can tell by at most 50 pages in and can leave it there in good, clear conscience. In a collection, however, even if the first couple of stories are absolutely off, you keep thinking, "Maybe the next one will get better? I mean, they got bundled together into a book for a reason, right?" Yes, and ...more
Apr 03, 2015 ethan rated it really liked it
standard rivka galchen, which is to say: brilliant, funny, off-kilter, a little lost. a lot of the book flirts with themes explored in atmospheric disturbances, the author's novel debut: identity conflation, directionless, parents, otherness and anxiety, hilarious and completely literary wordplay. a lot of folks seem taken with "wild berry blue," which i might call the least galchenesque and most straightforward story of the lot. my personal favorite is probably "sticker shock," a laugh-out-loud ...more
Jun 12, 2014 Emily rated it liked it
Why am I giving this three stars? I'm upset that I'm giving it three stars. For the first half of the collection, I thought I'd definitely be giving it 4 or 5 stars, but somewhere in the second half I fell off the AMERICAN INNOVATIONS wagon. It isn't that I'm not into magical realism/furniture leaving of its own accord, etc. I'm entirely impressed by Rivka Galchen's mind and the real oddity of her stories. But the last few stories just fell flat for me. I hope that, whenever I read this ...more
Drew Mccutchen
Feb 26, 2016 Drew Mccutchen rated it really liked it
I loved this collection of short stories. Galchen's writing feels wholly fresh and original and gives you an intimacy to the thoughts of the narrator, one that feels natural and familiar to your own. It seemed that most of the stories utilized an unreliable narrator, or at least one who internalized and argued out the lies they told themselves--the way we lie to ourselves everyday, methodically or flippantly, apologizing vaguely or absentmindedly. At times the stories are extremely funny and at ...more
Uwe Hook
Aug 20, 2014 Uwe Hook rated it really liked it
Apparently these stories develop from those written by widely-known writers. Don't let that turn you off. There is a deep humanity to Galchen's work, which I didn't find in the originals that I recognised. The loneliness she finds all around her reminds me of what found in some of Lucinda Williams songs. Galchen uses few artifices, no epiphanies and the humour has to be searched for. Nevertheless she writes convincingly from the heart, regardless of the imitations she undertakes.
Margaret Adams
Ten original, often hilarious stories that are so full of emotional deflection it's like the literary equivalent of negative space.
Alicia Brooks
Jun 20, 2014 Alicia Brooks rated it it was ok
Pretentious, overwrought and dull. There are dozens of better story collections out there. Skip this one.
Stephanie Innes
Dec 03, 2015 Stephanie Innes rated it really liked it
Great stories - sometimes felt like I was reading an American Margaret Atwood. Wry & clever - highly recommend.
Catherine Lockwood
Sep 29, 2014 Catherine Lockwood rated it it was ok
Didn't really enjoy it took me forever to read as a result, overrated.
Jan 11, 2015 Rand added it
Shelves: borrowed, halfred
Almost too much—ask the movement at this moment and they'll murmur.
Nov 04, 2016 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quirky and intelligent collection of heartbreaking and funny short stories, often one and the same. This is literary fiction with recognizable dialogue and no fear of genre fiction staples like time travel and the supernatural. None of us are perfect and maybe everyone has something to say and this book takes a close look at all of that.
Pauline Harder
Feb 04, 2015 Pauline Harder rated it really liked it
Normally I'm not looking to read short stories - I prefer to immerse myself in a longer story where I can really get to know the characters and settle into the plot. But I didn't realize Rivka Galchen's "American Innovations" was a collection of short stories when I picked it up, and by the time I was a few pages into it I was thrilled I had made the mistake.

This book made me love reading again just for the sake of reading. Galchen clearly loves to play - with both words and ideas - and I felt
Oct 13, 2016 Amelia rated it really liked it
As a rule I hate anything having to do with time travel, but "The Region of Unlikeness" was clever enough that I may have to break that rule.

Oct 09, 2016 Anna rated it it was amazing
Loved these strange and original stories! Great voices for her narrators.
Jul 06, 2016 Serena rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mangialibri
Indecisa sull’andare o meno a comprare dello yogurt per colazione, una donna riceve una telefonata da un numero “non disponibile”. All’altro capo del ricevitore una voce maschile, convinta di parlare con un ristorante cinese, le ordina del pollo all’aglio con contorno di riso bianco e insalata. La donna, anziché svelare l’equivoco, prende seriamente in considerazione l’idea di preparare il pollo… Ogni sabato mattina un padre porta la figlia di nove anni a fare colazione da Mc Donald’s. Un giorno ...more
Oct 08, 2014 Christina rated it really liked it
Galchen's collection includes ten short stories yet nearly all of them are written in first-person making it difficult to determine how distinct these stories are supposed to be from one another. Even so, I found myself warming to nearly every rendition of 'I' and greatly enjoying the magical realism injected into many of the stories.

The book begins with "The Lost Order" in which the narrator is harassed by a man placing his order for carry-out because she cannot find the nerve to tell him that
These stories are weird. In a good way--but weird nonetheless. Apparently a lot of them are influenced by very popular, classic short stories, such as Gogol's "The Nose" (for more information on this, see the NY Times Review here: )
Galchen makes each story her own, however, and every single one of them has a female protagonist. I found Galchen's narrative voice easy to connect to--almost soothing and familiar. Unfortunately I did not feel the same way abo
Nov 13, 2015 Jeff rated it it was amazing
I've loved Rivka Galchen's stories when I've come across them in the New Yorker or other magazines, and I loved her novel Atmospheric Disturbances, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to buy and read this collection. But I finally did, and am happy to report that the stories in it are fantastic.

If there's an overriding theme to the collection it's the isolation and disconnection we feel in the modern world. There's also this very strong sense of how locations and things can manifest as a kin
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Rivka Galchen (born 1976) is a Canadian-American writer and physician. Her first novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, was published in 2008. She currently is an adjunct professor in the writing division of Columbia University's School of Art. In 2010, she was chosen as one of the 20 best writers under 40 by The New Yorker.
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“That's something that would really sell. I mean, I admire that you tell stories of make-believe people in worlds that don't exist and that have no relevance to how we live. That can be nice, but people also like things that are uplifting and practical.
(From the short story: The Late Novels of Gene Hackman)”
“My books rustled by like a military of ducks. My mother had never liked my books. She'd said they kept me from real life, by which I think she meant men, or money, or both. Always accusing things of precisely the crimes they hadn't committed.
(From the short story: Once an Empire)”
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