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A Better Angel

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  647 Ratings  ·  120 Reviews

The stories in A Better Angel describe the terrain of human suffering—illness, regret, mourning, sympathy—in the most unusual of ways. In “Stab,” a bereaved twin starts a friendship with a homicidal fifth grader in the hope that she can somehow lead him back to his dead brother. In “Why Antichrist?” a boy tries to contact the spirit of his dead father and finds himself

Hardcover, 240 pages
Published August 5th 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Nate D
Nov 04, 2008 Nate D rated it really liked it
Chris Adrian is fascinating and inexplicable. He's got an MD, completed a pediatric residency, spent time at Harvard Divinity School, graduated from the Iowa Writer's Workshop, is currently working in pediatric hematology/oncology at UCSF, and just last year was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Damn. Somehow, during this time, he managed to write one short novel, bizarre and imperfect, one long novel, bizarre and less imperfect, and many stories, most of which are collected here. Dark dark dark ...more
Cait Poytress
Oh my god, I have found the modern day, male Flannery O'Connor! Dark, disturbing tone? The grotesque? Religious themes? Check, check, and check. With Adrian though, we have medicine instead of the South.
The man is a freaking genius. Seriously, go read his bio - it's insane.

I loved every single story in this collection and I can't wait to read The Children's Hospital.
Dec 29, 2011 Cheryl rated it really liked it
Recommended to Cheryl by: Cait Poytress
Recommended on Thursday. Bought Thursday night. Read on Sunday, finished on Monday.
Done and dusted. A new author to follow.

I’m always especially intrigued by books written by physicians, envying them their overachieving capabilities. And look at the author photo on the back flap of the dust jacket. Such boyish good looks, such Mid-West clean-scrubbed open face and twinkling eyes. But his aw-shucks smile looks a bit sheepish. Perhaps because he can almost hear the reader’s disbelieving comment, “
Aug 29, 2008 Anne rated it liked it
There is definitely some 4-star fiction in this collection, but some of these pieces felt more like (and might be) scenes cut from The Children's Hospital than free-standing, full-bodied stories. (When McSweeney's bought TCH's manuscript, it was 400 pp longer.) In a recent interview, Adrian admits to writing the same story over and over again--and to some extent, I think that's true for most writers; there are those particular questions we can't stop asking and investigating, and it's not like w ...more
Mar 21, 2011 Marc rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-books
As a lover of short stories, I am forced to maintain a high tolerance for mediocrity to get through to the real gems. Thankfully this book popped up on the New Releases section in my library, because there isn't a clunker among the bunch. The stories, vastly original, are gripping and sometimes devastating pieces from a very individual writer.
This collection has a significantly unified tone, almost a subdued desperation blended with a wonderfully enabling innocence. It was rewarding to read it
Will Walton
Aug 07, 2014 Will Walton rated it it was amazing
The first thing I ever read by Chris Adrian was a story, "The Warm Fuzzies," that was anthologized in the New Yorker's 20 Authors Under 40 collection. I remember thinking it was beautiful and horrible, and it inspired me to run out and get Adrian's novel, THE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL, which I read one winter break while home from college. I started calling him my favorite writer shortly thereafter. This story collection (which I just finished; I've essentially been reading it for a year and a half no ...more
Jan 09, 2013 Nikki rated it did not like it
I read The Children's Hospital (or some of it, anyway) with a book group, and somehow ended up wondering if maybe if I just tried something else of Chris Adrian's... Spoiler: don't. Well, don't if The Children's Hospital totally failed to work for you, anyway. I could've told you it was the same author without looking it up.

This review does a more even-handed job of analysing this than I would; suffice it to say that I, for my part, will not read anything else by Chris Adrian.
The characters in these stories are all uniquely and gloriously fucked up, in ways paralleling reality without ever quite being mistaken for real. If that makes sense. We see the Antichrist coming of age, a young girl with an escalating penchant for murder, an epidemic of linked hallucinations among the youth of a particular town, a boy possessed by spirits who only returns to his original self under grim circumstances. Each of these characters is both disturbed and disturbing in its own way, an ...more
Apr 14, 2010 shawn rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviews
this collection, like adrian's incredible novel "the children's hospital", mixes the religious impulse with contemporary high-tech medicine to great effect. the author conflates religion and medicine in an attempt, it seems, to understand what either is really about and how they can possibly coexist. over and over again, he puts a traditionally religious theme or occurrence into the realm of medicine and goes about showing how these once sacred or spiritual topics are processed by modern medicin ...more
Jan 25, 2009 Monte rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
he author of Gob's Grief and The Children's Hospital returns with a sublime collection of nine stories whose wide assortment of characters, many of them children, fugue around death, are plagued by remembrance of things past and are possessed by violence. In Stab, a young protagonist whose twin died, joins a little girl in a killing spree of neighborhood animals, eventually setting their sights on larger prey. A woman who tries to commit suicide in The Sum of Our Parts wanders hospital halls as ...more
May 26, 2009 Art rated it it was amazing
I am a big fan of chris adrian's work, and this collection of short stories didn't let me down. Returning to themes and topics he explored in "Gob's Grief" and "The Children's Hospital" such as the violent and graceful management of grief, the death of brothers, the play of the fantastic in the frightening reality of the medical or very real- he doesn't repeat himself, but expands on earlier definitions and understandings, and makes a broader attempt at empathy and compassion for the forces outs ...more
Christopher Roberts
Sep 13, 2012 Christopher Roberts rated it it was amazing
Shelves: magic-realism
Chris Adrian mixes theology and magic realism to create a unique style that I couldn't put down. I first read his story "Changling" in Esquire where it was originally published as "Promise Breaker" and it blew me away. When I picked up this book I found that it was one of many gems Adrian had produced over the years.
Jul 23, 2009 G rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best of these stories ("The Changeling", "Stab", and especially "Why Antichrist?") are shocking, memorable, and affective, and even the ones that don't work as well are still quite well-crafted. I had a small issue with the recurrence of the "post-9/11 effects on a character", but even that can't detract much from the power of the book as a whole.
Adam Rodenberger
Nov 16, 2012 Adam Rodenberger rated it it was amazing
About two years ago, while doing some drunken book shopping with Surya at City Lights Books in North Beach, I stumbled across Chris Adrian's second novel, "The Children's Hospital," and was completely fascinated with the story. A kind of Noah's ark, but with a hospital and set in modern times. I wish I could say that I've completed the book, but I haven't...yet. It's fat and dense and completely interesting.

But my ever-changing, ever-adapting taste has moved to reading more short story collectio
This just over 200 page book contains nine stories. There are a lot of angels - and not those plumb, baby-faced ones either, but the Old Testament type angels - and sick kids. Not the typical short story material, but perhaps what might be expected from a pediatrician who attended divinity school. They are delightfully weird stories, especially those that tell us what's going on in the heads of kids or a dead person. They certainly are not happy stories but there are humorous moments. And they j ...more
Heidi Ward
If you are familiar with Chris Adrian's work, you will already know that it's beautiful, unsettling, and pretty much impossible to categorize. Is it magical realism? Literary fantasy? Modern fable? Certainly the recondite and sensitive subjects of illness, faith, and apocalypse are never far from the surface in his tales; sometimes bringing tragedy and other times visionary ecstasy.

The tales in A Better Angel nearly all feature children or teens, most carrying some kind of "mark" which separate
Eleanor Toland
Always surreal, often horrific and sometimes magical, Chris Adrian's stories are slices of some of the strangest lives. The pages of A Better Angel are populated by characters as diverse as an ex conjoined twin, a homicidal ten-year-old girl, civil war re-enactionists, a boy in pre-industrial times with visions of two towers struck by a metal angel made of metal, nihilist teenagers, incompetent doctors and of course, the devil.

The author is a paediatric oncologist (as well as a novelist and a "
Giovanni Loui
Mar 26, 2015 Giovanni Loui rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have never came across an odd book yet tolerably readable such as this one. Nonetheless, I am actually glad that I was able to get a copy of this kind and at a bargain. The book is a compilation of short stories. Stories about the living and the dead and about hereafter. The stories are sometimes a little bit weird and scary just like the one entitled "STAB", which was about the strange friendship between a girl and boy who loved to kill living creatures to the point of killing a human being ...more
Apr 27, 2013 Ajk rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fiction
Oh wow. It's a small collection of short stories, and it's probably the only short story collection I've read. At least since high school. (EDIT: Besides Wells Tower's Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned) I have friends who love short stories, but I always thought I'd rather have something long to really chew on.

With that skepticism in hand, I bought this as an e-book based solely off an Aaron Bady reference to "a kid in 19th century Ohio who has visions of 9/11" which is about as perfect an e
Jul 10, 2012 Clark rated it really liked it
A few of these stories are absolutely devastating. "The Sum of Our Parts" in particular really struck a chord in me. I give Chris Adrian credit for having the gall to portray completely destroyed people and still find their humanity. Terrible things have already happened to them, but they are still given the opportunity to make good choices, making it all the more painful when they still fail. It's compelling to me that he casts children into nearly all of the villainous roles in his stories. He ...more
Renz Homer Cerillo
I am innately drawn to stories that talk about demons, angels, the supernatural and what have you. That’s why when I saw this in a local bookstore, I bought A Better Angel not out of budget or careful selection, but out of basic human instinct. I really had high expectations for this book. Not only because it’s NYTimes Editor’s Choice book, but also because it deals about the bizarre and divine which is one of my preferred themes.

I’m torn between liking and hating this. I love the themes but the
Oct 06, 2009 Schnaucl rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Fans of The Children's Hospital
I got this book as part of an early reviewer program on another site. Honestly, if I'd realized it was written by the same author as The Children's Hopsital I probably would not have requested it. I really was not a fan of that book.

The actually are some good stories in this anthology. I thought the stories that touched on 9/11 were visceral and though provoking and I would have liked more in that vein.

Unfortunately, most of the stories felt similar to The Children's Hospital. There's something
Oct 30, 2008 Neil rated it it was amazing
Shelves: a-to-z-project
A to Z Project, Book 5
This is my first encounter with Adrian. If he was just a writer, I would say that he definitely captures something, something very dark yet still palpable in what is to be a child, especially in our often perverse modern world. "Stab," about a conjoined twin whose sibling has died and his "friend" who kills the neighborhood animals, was my favorite, but "High Speeds," "The Sum of Our Parts," and "A Child's Book of Sickness and Death" were powerful stories too. The three sto
Tim Storm
May 05, 2011 Tim Storm rated it did not like it
It's not that Chris Adrian is a bad writer. In fact, he's good at evoking emotion. The problem is that the emotions he tries to evoke are not ones I want to be feeling. Too many of these stories were either disgusting or sadistic or just plain depressing. Reading Adrian's book just reinforces that my perhaps-overly-traditional aesthetic makes me crave redemptive moments and hope. He has such great premises: these are tales about a literal guardian angel, a civil war re-enactor, a kid who finds o ...more
Jan 20, 2016 Karen rated it really liked it
Loved this collection of short stories peopled by disturbed and disturbing--yet somehow terribly sympathetic--characters. Trying to predict how a character will react to the conflicts the author has created for him is near impossible. It's just this unexpectedness that makes the stories work so well. In one story, two children who have both suffered the death of loved ones stalk their neighborhoods in the night, one killing animals, one witnessing the acts of murder which escalate and escalate, ...more
Jan 05, 2009 Stop added it
Shelves: reviewed
Read the STOP SMILING review of A Better Angel:

In “The Sum of Our Parts,” one of the stories included in A Better Angel, the reader is introduced to Beatrice, a comatose woman with an “unusual condition” that allows her soul to wander unseen through the hospital while her body awaits a new liver. She cultivates a particular fondness for the workers in the pathology department, one of whom remarks that he has been in love with her since he “heard her story and handled her blood for the first time
S.W. Gordon
May 04, 2014 S.W. Gordon rated it really liked it
It was a frustratingly slow start with the first two stories. There were flashes of brilliance separated by long sections of poor execution. I couldn't buy into a nine year-old narrator with so much angst and the POV shifts in the second story were terribly jarring. I started to think, "Dang, if I had all the help and training Adrien had, I'd write a helluva lot better than this." Then Stab captured my imagination and quieted my objections but I still felt it gave too much away too soon and shou ...more
Jan 13, 2014 Terry rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Edited to add: Based on what some other recommeders say...I will agree (tentatively) that the collection as a whole is, well, kinda "dark". (By "dark", I mean, there is a significant amount of violence--including one story with a looootttt of violence directed at animals--and pain, and suffering children, and more than one story referencing, obliquely and not so obliquely, September 11th.) I wasn't put off by that at all, others might be. Or as the kids say, YMMV.

Original review:The Children's
Sep 19, 2008 Sara rated it it was amazing
Chris Adrian is a sick genius. Everyone must read his books, they will haunt you. I read his first book, "Gob's Grief", many years ago, and that one remains my favorite. Years later he came out with "The Children's Hospital", which is almost as good. I highly recommend all of them, you will not be dissatisfied! He is a pediatrician, as well as some sort of religious something-or-other, which is pretty impressive. His last two books have been about the maladies of children. "A Better Angel" is sh ...more
Aug 22, 2008 Peter rated it it was amazing
This makes book makes me wish he had more books. It's cool to see some of the themes he used in Children's Hospital. There's even a Pickie Beecher kid in one of the stories. I especially like the 9/11 theme that runs through many of the stories. I could have (and probably did) miss a lot but I haven't seen much lit dealing with the whole thing. It's such a huge deal and so many people have personal connections to it (an attorney from my office was on the plane that hit the Pentagon) you'd think ...more
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I'm scared 1 33 May 15, 2010 07:40PM  
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Chris Adrian was born in Washington D.C. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he attended Harvard Divinity School, and is currently a pediatric fellow at UCSF. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009. In 2010, he was chosen as one of the 20 best writers under 40 by The New Yorker.
More about Chris Adrian...

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