This is a hard collection to sell, because the stories are dark and disturbing and often have ambiguous endings. What made these stories even more omiThis is a hard collection to sell, because the stories are dark and disturbing and often have ambiguous endings. What made these stories even more ominous, to me, is that the demons are mostly interior--past trauma, possible psychotic breaks, or crises of conscience. I prefer Chaon's previous collection, Among the Missing, but this collection has some memorable, atmospheric stories. My favorites of the bunch were "The Bees," "Long Delayed, Always Expected," "Stay Awake," "To Psychic Underworld" and especially "Thinking of You in Your Time of Sorrow."...more
These stories strike an interesting balance between humor, often dark humor, and weightiness: most of the stories hinge on the choices people make wheThese stories strike an interesting balance between humor, often dark humor, and weightiness: most of the stories hinge on the choices people make when tested and how they live with the consequences of those choices.
My favorite stories were the title story, an update on the famous Raymond Carver story with its own twist; “Sister Hills”, about Jewish settlers in the West Bank and a bargain made between two mothers; "Camp Sundown" about a vigilante group in an Elderhostel camp who suspect a Nazi is in their midst; “Free Fruit for Young Widows” a story I first heard on the Selected Shorts podcast about a father who slowly parcels out the history of a fruit stand customer to his son; and “The Reader” about a author who publishes a new book after a long silence who finds himself on a book tour with no audience, except for one faithful reader who follows him. ...more
The men in these stories are haunted by dead children, dead parents, dead wives, and wives and girlfriends who've moved out and moved on. In "Among thThe men in these stories are haunted by dead children, dead parents, dead wives, and wives and girlfriends who've moved out and moved on. In "Among the Living, Amidst the Trees", they are described as "rough-hewed and heavy men, men with calluses thick as rawhide, men who aren't afraid to keep something tender beneath their ribcages, and to expose it to the elements when occasion calls for it, no matter how it hurts."
The imagery is often brutal and visceral--a male nurse helping out with debridement treatments for burn victims, two men cleaning out the lingering smell in a debarker after a fellow worker has been pulverized inside. But with the exception of an overwritten first story and an overabundance of the use of second person, the writing finds beauty in the brokenness, as in this passage from "The Last One Left in Arkansas":
Lose a child and, for a while, the only thing that can keep you sane and above ground and alive enough to hate yourself is the burn-off of rage you ignite by laying blame somewhere, on something or someone else, so you can keep it from burrowing inside you and living where deep down you believe it belongs."
My favorite stories: "The Last One Left in Arkansas" about a man who confronts his feelings about the son who survives an accident that kills his brother; "Because He Can't Not Remember" about an incident gone horribly wrong in a Wal-Mart parking lot; and "What You're Walking Around Without" about a man who works transporting medical specimens after an oil rig fall leaves him damaged....more
These stories feature the lives of working musicians, their disappointments and frustrations and moments of collaboration and transcendence, whether tThese stories feature the lives of working musicians, their disappointments and frustrations and moments of collaboration and transcendence, whether toiling in obscurity, selling out, or remembering past glories. Tim, a drummer that drifts from band to band, and his sometimes girlfriend, Kate, recur in many of the stories. I found this collection to be consistently strong across the board, no real clunkers for me, but my favorite stories were probably "Sidemen" about the wife of a constantly touring musician, "Mr. Fern, Freestyle" about an aging choir director and his reluctant involvement with a trio of aspiring rappers, and "Lost Coast" which features a rock critic's visit to his dead brother's friend....more