I didn't like this collection as much as I do usually. Part of it was a "style over substance" thing, which worked better for me in Jennifer Eagan's "I didn't like this collection as much as I do usually. Part of it was a "style over substance" thing, which worked better for me in Jennifer Eagan's "Goon Squad" novel than it did in many of the short stories she chose. Also, in general the stories were less diverse than usual--both geopolitically and in subject matter; a lot of items about couple.
Here are my favorites.
"Charity" by Charles Baxter (McSweeney's) A man who turns to drugs after getting sick is rescued by his boyfriend, but in the process they lose their way as a couple.
"After the Flood" by Peter Cameron (Subtropics) A woman who lost her family takes in some fellow church goers who lost all their possessions to a flood.
"Hover" by Nell Freudenberger (Paris Review) A woman dealing with a separation has to take on her son's imaginative problems at school.
"The Judge's Will" by Ruth Prawler Jhabvala (New York Times) In India, woman cares for her son and her ailing husband's longtime mistress.
"La Pulchra Nota" by Molly McNett (Image) A disabled man in medieval England finds comfort with a singing student after his wife loses interest in their marriage.
"Madam Bovary's Greyhound" by Karen Russell (Zoetrope) Perspective from Madam Bovary's dog, who takes on a physical world similar to her mistress's emotional one.
"Antartica" by Laura Van Den Berg (Glimmer Train) A woman's brother disappears in Antartica; she reminisces about him and his wife who disappeared years prior.
Honorable mention: "Long Tom Lookout" by Nicole Cullen. A woman runs off with her philandering husband's young son to live and work in a remote location. Ending seems a bit melodramatic....more
Yes, I read them and I feel worse about myself afterwards. :P If I ever needed a way to see the “Twilight” books as halfway decent in comparison…
The cYes, I read them and I feel worse about myself afterwards. :P If I ever needed a way to see the “Twilight” books as halfway decent in comparison…
The characters are one dimensional archetypes put into contrived plot situations. Christian is controlling enough to make Edward look like a mouse, including buying up Anna’s place of employment. Anna, who apparently survived 21st century college life without even thinking she’d need access to a personal computer, immediately gets a job (and a promotion! And this is after spending most of her days emailing Christian from her work account) as a current day book editor. Everyone is connected to everyone else, including Anna’s former boss, who conveniently turns into a ghost from Christian’s obscure past half a country away. James even goes as far to admit that the bank scene from the final book never could have happened, so she wrote two unconvincing versions of it, one in the actual story and one in her afterword. Anna spends a disturbing amount of time talking to “her inner goddess” about dancing the meringue and etc., maybe because James doesn’t know any other way to probe what/how she feels. And the BDSM lifestyle becomes a thin smokescreen for dealing with trauma. Most disastrously, the moral of these books seems to be that an innocent young woman can “fix” a violent, broken man. I’m up for complex characters (who don’t exist here anyway) but I’ve witnessed enough real people get into really dangerous situations because they believe in that premise.
I should probably learn to give some books lower reviews. But I’ll give James this—the sex scenes could be steamy. It was when the couple left the boudoir that the story fell apart....more
I skimmed the battle school parts, and focused more heavily on the Peter/Valentine subplot. I have mixed feelings. I appreciate that Card understood,I skimmed the battle school parts, and focused more heavily on the Peter/Valentine subplot. I have mixed feelings. I appreciate that Card understood, and in the eighties, the power that the Internet would have to bring certain political (and other) voices to the masses. And I can probably excuse the fact that he didn’t have enough future vision to understand how unlikely it would be for the two to remain anonymous, at least in our world, where the internet has catered more focus on celebrity. If “Locke” and “Demosthenes” were truly that popular to the masses, there would be more demands for proof of identity. They’d certainly be called for speaking engagements, plastered all over YouTube, whatever. But what I don’t buy at all is that pre-teens, even genius pre-teens, could pull this off (and I note that Card didn’t once actually write a full-fledged article so as to show the readers their skills.)
The entire novel is more or less based on the predilection that the term “genius” means these young kids can basically get away with/had the propensity to accomplish pretty much anything. It’s a lazy, shallow premise, especially in a book that, as I understood it, was supposed to probe the complexities of war and politics. The idea of a “video game genocide” was certainly troubling, but I found more meaning in John Kessel’s criticism of how Card handled the issues at stake and the character of Ender, in his 2004 essay "Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality" (which apparently has a GoodReads page! https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8...) It’s also archived here: https://web.archive.org/web/201409061......more
I read a bit, skimmed a lot. Certain stories arcs appealed to me, but more on a soap opera escapist scale than anything. Clare does a decent job of wrI read a bit, skimmed a lot. Certain stories arcs appealed to me, but more on a soap opera escapist scale than anything. Clare does a decent job of writing quirky teenagers navigating both hormones and fantasy adventures, but some of my beef with the book is that there’s really nothing deeper there. It’s fun, but didn’t touch me with a more genuine message, like the Potter books and the emphasis on sticking together with friends, your legacy living on through your loved ones, and choosing what is right over what is easy. Her characters were a little too one-dimensional for that, and a fair bit of their conflicts were a bit contrived. This whole thing tableau about whether or not Clary’s love interest, Jace, is also her brother caters to popular fetishes, particularly in fanfiction, but didn’t organically contribute to character growth. And Valentine was an ok villain, choosing xenophobia in response to the constant battling and problems in his world, but Sebastian, in the next trilogy, was completely without layers. He might have some scruples about his upbringing, but ultimately just evil because he has demon’s blood, whatever.
I’ll give Clare props for her worldbuilding; I think she did a good job of incorporating biblical mythos about angels and demons into her urban fantasy. But the ending to the six-parter was a total copout—I’ll just go as far to say that the only time when the main characters had to sacrifice something substantial, they immediately got it back in the epilogue. Not too impressed....more
I liked it. Had a modernist tone with prose grounded in realism. Am wondering how HBO will adapt these stories, not that there isn't any drama, but thI liked it. Had a modernist tone with prose grounded in realism. Am wondering how HBO will adapt these stories, not that there isn't any drama, but that it's not sustained. The "novel," as it were, looks at day-in-the-life moments across the span of many years.
Not too many years, though, and I liked that, too. With Strout covering Olive Kitteridge as a middle aged to late age adult, only referencing earlier points in snapshot images, we are spared from being overly sentimental or dramatic. These stories seem like a genuine attempt to probe at events from Olive's life, how they're informed by her personality and experiences, and how she impacts people around her. It doesn't read like something made for the Hallmark channel; in some of the stories centering around other people, she's just a figure in the background. In one story, she's just a passing reference.
One thing I appreciate a bit about Strout's craft is that she centers her short story around one event, and the backstory of associations and past events and emotions and whatever just flows naturally from that. But the present day event is the axis from which the story turns, giving us center. Or maybe giving me center, as a writer, who is also attempting to craft a novel of short stories, as a way to build up character(s). This book is certainly a role model in that capacity....more
The tone of these stories all feel very different to me, though I can't put my finger on why. Most are in third person, and they dance around the centThe tone of these stories all feel very different to me, though I can't put my finger on why. Most are in third person, and they dance around the central events via omniscient narrator who teases you with slightly more information and/or speculation than the characters themselves are capable of. Maybe it's the characters themselves who are a bit different--middle and lower class kids and adults of varying mental health, European wanderers who were bougious, tourists, or run down, the largely unnamed collective staff of a library that narrated one of my favorite stories, "Juliet."
At the 2014 National Book Festival, McCracken divulged that two of the stories were once part of the same fledging novel-in-progress that ultimately died out, in part because these stories were so disparate. But thematically, there's a bit of a string. Characters are lost either to death or the unknown, and we center on how it changes or exacerbates the relationships of those around them. In "Something Amazing," a grieving mother who lost a young child lets a young boy into her house while his abusive older brother, we learn through the hinting omniscient narrator, is lost forever to a traumatic, unknown event that later switches his own mother's favor back to him (the irony of how you get what you desire). In "Juliet," the library plays center stage to people on both sides of a death--Juliet turns into a pseudonym when the woman is murdered; the angry father of the murderer turns meek; the children's librarian who befriended the protagonist turns bitter and confrontational. In "Hungry" a woman is kept from the son who is dying by the daughter who always resented her; she has to find meaning in her son's last moments while keeping the truth from her granddaughter.
"the Lost and Found Department of Greater Boston" is probably my favorite, where the omniscient narrator probes what might have happened to a missing woman, but the real protagonist is "the Hi-Lo Manager," who defines himself that way certainly as much as the story does, after an altercation with the woman's son which the two of them remember quite differently. I also liked "Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey" where a man goes to die on a friend-turned-enemy's couch, reminiscing on the private, complicated aspects of a publicly damning documentary the other man made of him.
But by the time I got to "Thunderstruck," where a rebellious pre-teen was taken to Paris to curb her appetites, I was a little weary. Surely, despite the obviously misleading happy start, the girl would end up either dead or missing--McCracken now chose a compromise between the two. But this time, the varying reactions of the parents just seemed exhausting--.until we were allowed a brief glimpse into the girl's altered mind.
Just a brief continuity note--I did read "Property" in a Best American Short Stories anthology where I named it a favorite; still liked it here, but nothing new to report. :p...more