Really, really cool short stories. Richter does an amazing job capturing the POVs of her bizarre, fucked up characters; their voices are remarkably diReally, really cool short stories. Richter does an amazing job capturing the POVs of her bizarre, fucked up characters; their voices are remarkably distinct and the prose is lively. Richter reminds me somewhat of Aimee Bender or Kelly Link, although I think I may have actually enjoyed these stories more; they had a tighter narrative structure than either Bender's or Link's work, whose stories (the latter's in particular) sometimes leave me going, "What was that actually ABOUT?" Which is not to say Richter's dumbing it down—there is simply a clarity to her presentation and purpose. I loved both the tragic, heart-wrenching stories, like "The Beauty Treatment," and the ebullient, ridiculous ones—"Goal 666" and "Rats Eat Cats" are two of my favorites in the collection....more
A beautiful and thought-provoking but very difficult read. Haslett’s short stories share themes of mental illness, suicide, alienation and grief—boy,A beautiful and thought-provoking but very difficult read. Haslett’s short stories share themes of mental illness, suicide, alienation and grief—boy, do I make this book sound fun! But these stories are striking, and Haslett’s prose is beautiful. “The Beginnings of Grief,” about the violent relationship an orphaned boy tumbles into with a brutal classmate, was especially compelling to me, as was the story about a grown up brother and sister living together, haunted by the memory of their mother’s suicide and the man they both loved. Plus, “Notes to My Biographer” has one of the most startling and effective descriptions of schizophrenia that I’ve ever encountered. These stories are stark and incredible, but not recommended reading if you’re feeling the least bit emotionally vulnerable!...more
The best thing about the Memphis airport? They sell used books. Why don’t ALL airports do this? Anyway, this was a book that I got there, because my fThe best thing about the Memphis airport? They sell used books. Why don’t ALL airports do this? Anyway, this was a book that I got there, because my flight was delayed and I needed a quick laugh. Sedaris’ opening essay, about working as a Macy’s elf at Christmas, certainly delivered—and we’re talking the usual, must-bite-lip-and-not-appear-psycho-to-strangers kind of laugh-inducement here. Unfortunately, Sedaris is a much better essayist than he is a short story writer; the pieces of fiction that share the volume were much too obvious, totally without the subtlety his non-fiction possesses. If you’re not stuck in an airport, I’d recommend reading the first essay in this volume in the store, then picking up one of Sedaris’ longer, richer, better books....more
Should actually be subtitled "Why Not to Live in Wyoming." Seriously, this is one of the most depressing collections of short stories I've ever encounShould actually be subtitled "Why Not to Live in Wyoming." Seriously, this is one of the most depressing collections of short stories I've ever encountered. Which is not to say they're not good, just that I'd kind of like to challenge Proulx to write a bit of light comedy or something.
"Brokeback Mountain" is the best, and I actually find the story much more evocative and powerful than the film. (Not that Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger making out is anything to sneeze at, mind.) Still, I'm glad I got a copy pre- tie-in cover and title change. I'm shallow, and I really hate that....more
I loved Richter's first short story collection, My Date With Satan, and this, her second, did not disappoint. Richter has an amazing ability to takeI loved Richter's first short story collection, My Date With Satan, and this, her second, did not disappoint. Richter has an amazing ability to take strange ideas and make them seem normal, or to take seemingly normal concepts and make them strange. I loved the title story, about twins resolute in their non-inter-changeableness, and all the others have something quirky or fun or surprising to recommend them. (And then there was the one that FREAKED ME THE FUCK OUT.) I am now a full-out Stacey Richter devotee; I can't wait to see what she does next. (I wish she'd write a novel.) ...more
A very early Neil Gaiman collection, that I think is kind of hard to get now. Most of the short stories have since been reprinted, many of them in SA very early Neil Gaiman collection, that I think is kind of hard to get now. Most of the short stories have since been reprinted, many of them in Smoke and Mirrors, but what makes this volume cool is that it also contains a few examples of Gaiman's journalism, including a book review he wrote after he lost the book. He mostly ends up talking about peeing in styrofoam cups and elephant come, I believe. A treasure....more
Chuck Klosterman's essays are always interesting, even when I disagree with him, even when he makes me angry. There are even a couple of essays aboutChuck Klosterman's essays are always interesting, even when I disagree with him, even when he makes me angry. There are even a couple of essays about musicians I really like in this volume (Bono and Morrissey) which is a fun bonus; considering that I've read Klosterman's book about heavy metal, which I am totally not interested in, it was a curious experience to hear his thoughts on something I honestly do care about. Klosterman doesn't shre my love, but he's fair to his subjects and really does raise interesting points—fine qualities in an essayist. However, the one example of his fiction at the conclusion of this volume does not display his finer qualities quite so well; it kind of reads like a bad Chuck Palahniuk/ Douglas Coupland fusion. Chuck Klosterman should stick to being Chuck Klosterman; he's very good at it....more
A book of interconnected stories about a bunch of Canadian doctors, from their time as medical students through various incidents in their careers. TaA book of interconnected stories about a bunch of Canadian doctors, from their time as medical students through various incidents in their careers. Taken individually, many of these stories are phenomenal. The story about the SARS outbreak is the obvious stand-out, but the earlier tales about the romance between Ming and Fitzgerald, and about Ming's anatomy class, are also wonderful. Unfortunately, since the stories share the same core group of characters—Ming, Fitz, Chen, and Sri—and the book overall flirts with being a "novel in stories," it's impossible not to try to view them as a whole, and as one entity, they don't really work, they don't come together. In some of the more medically-focused stories, one of the doctors becomes by necessity the person who the medical incidents happen to, but it's never really clear, from a character standpoint, why that doctor was paired with that problem; I kept expecting there to be a connection, to have the ailment illuminate the person, but it seemed kind of random, and maybe it was. By the same token: one character is randomly killed, and we hear about it much later, but there's no larger significance to it. Maybe I'm wrong to be looking for these connections, to be seeking signs and wonders in a realm of medical fact, but I can't help it. I think in general I'm the kind of reader who reads for characters, so when the arcs of the people I'm following have holes or unexplained bends or just abruptly stop, I'm left feeling...lost.
I'm still immensely glad I read this book, but I couldn't love it, just moments in it. Though I must also give Lam—points? an astonished blink? an awed nod?—for being the only author I have ever seen (and probably ever will see) construct an essential plot point around U2's Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1. It's part of a story about staying awake; it certainly woke me up. There are several more (and more universal) shock moments in this book; it is worth reading just for those....more
The other professional mpreg I couldn't think of during the recent discussion. Hopefully it'll be better than The Fourth Procedure, but that wouldn'tThe other professional mpreg I couldn't think of during the recent discussion. Hopefully it'll be better than The Fourth Procedure, but that wouldn't be hard......more
The majority of these stories are bleak and nasty and depressing, and, okay: noir, but the best noir contains a hint of hope, a little blanc to contraThe majority of these stories are bleak and nasty and depressing, and, okay: noir, but the best noir contains a hint of hope, a little blanc to contrast with the darkness, right? Okay, maybe not. Maybe I just have more tolerance for bleakness in a 90-minute film than in story after story in a 300-page book. Still! Some of these stories were quite good, especially (and to my surprise) Janet Fitch’s Sunset Boulevard-esque tale. Perhaps White Oleander is worth reading, after all?
One last complaint: none of these stories were really my L.A. I’m weirdly protective of my much-maligned city, and while yeah, there are tons of things that are sleazy and awful about it, there are wonderful things, too. I wish some writer out there would get the balance right....more
A collection of quirkly sci-fi stories, pretty much all of which had interesting concepts, but very little in the way of characters. (Also virtually nA collection of quirkly sci-fi stories, pretty much all of which had interesting concepts, but very little in the way of characters. (Also virtually no female characters, I realized once I was done. Like, I think a couple times someone's mom shows up, but that's it. Wow.) I think I read for characters more than ideas (though obviously, a marriage of both is what's best) so there really wasn't much for me here. YMMV, of course, but these stories really did leave me feeling stranded, like a foreigner....more
I loved Lisick's memoir, Everybody Into the Pool, in part because it's one of the few—perhaps the only—memoirs I've read that depicts a funny, weird,I loved Lisick's memoir, Everybody Into the Pool, in part because it's one of the few—perhaps the only—memoirs I've read that depicts a funny, weird, messed-up adult without pinning all those traits on a fucked-up, miserable childhood (No, look, my childhood is the MOST miserable! See how miserable it was? Wallow in the shit of my childhood a little more, plz).
ANYWAY...Lisick didn't do that! (Although Pool does contain a hilarious and squirm-worthy incident involving, um. Shit.) But I digress, as I'm actually supposed to be talking about Monkey Girl, her earlier collection of short stories/spoken word-type stuff. The idea of "spoken word" usually makes me cringe (that's not what I go to bars or coffee shops for, okay?) but as I said, I liked Pool, so I was willing to give this a shot. I'm glad I did. It's nothing revolutionary, but Lisick once again makes a good tour guide for the Bay Area underground: humorous, self-deprecating, not the least bit poseur-y, self-righteous, or faux. And I believe in her Bay Area; it touches on the Bay Area I experienced enough to make me pleasantly nostalgic. I'm not sure if this book would do much for you if the San Francisco/Berkeley scene isn't one with which you're familiar, but I liked it....more
As with the other two volumes I’ve read, I found the majority of the art very beautiful, but the stories they illustrate kind of bland and forgettableAs with the other two volumes I’ve read, I found the majority of the art very beautiful, but the stories they illustrate kind of bland and forgettable. My favorite from this volume was the one about the girl who grows wings (yes, wingfic, ha ha), but for me that was really the only standout....more
Ignore David Sedaris’ blurb: these stories are not funny. They are occasionally wry. They’re also incredibly well-written and full of fascinating ideIgnore David Sedaris’ blurb: these stories are not funny. They are occasionally wry. They’re also incredibly well-written and full of fascinating ideas. Several of them, especially “Justine Laughs at Death,” blew me away. But this is a hard book to read—very bleak, especially when you go into it expecting humor. (Damn you, Sedaris! *shakes fist*) Still, I’d recommend sucking it up and jumping in, especially if you’re interested in subtle, atypical explorations of gender, or what it means to be a woman in the (nearly) modern world—there were several stories in here that I found far more interesting and revealing than most of what I’ve read in various Tiptree Award collections. I’m still vaguely unsettled—but in a good way. *g*...more
I really like Almond’s nonfiction, but these short stories, in their monotonous account of bad decision after bad decision, lost love after lost love,I really like Almond’s nonfiction, but these short stories, in their monotonous account of bad decision after bad decision, lost love after lost love, really did not do it for me. Maybe the fact that I’m in my twenties and suffering from a poor love life makes me ill-equipped to appreciate stories about people in their twenties suffering from poor love lives—though everyone in Almond’s fiction, I should note, is also having way, way more sex than I am; maybe you do need distance. I need to read something that doesn’t sound like it could be a diary entry....more
This if a fondly-remembered short story collection from my childhood/early teen years that I happily finally managed to track down again. The story "LThis if a fondly-remembered short story collection from my childhood/early teen years that I happily finally managed to track down again. The story "Lose Now, Pay Later" still haunts me; let's see how the rest hold up....more
Queer retellings of common, and not-so-common, fairytales. These didn’t really work for me. They make use of a lot of gay clichés—hairdressers, leatheQueer retellings of common, and not-so-common, fairytales. These didn’t really work for me. They make use of a lot of gay clichés—hairdressers, leathermen, etc.—and most seemed to be trying too hard: “SEE WHAT I’M DOING HERE? NUDGE NUDGE.” The whole collection seems dated, which, admittedly, it is: it was published in 1995. Or maybe I’m just really not the target audience; it does say “retold for gay men,” not, um. Female slashers. But all that aside…I guess the most major problem for me was that, for fairytales, these stories were just not very magical. Where was the wonder, the otherworldliness? I like the idea of combining aspects of modern life with traditional stories, but not if you kill the magic....more
Really interesting collection of stories about race and racism in Dublin. These were originally published serially, with each of the stories broken doReally interesting collection of stories about race and racism in Dublin. These were originally published serially, with each of the stories broken down into 800-word segments, and Doyle admits in the introduction that he didn’t really plan ahead, so a couple of them sort of meander and change direction in ways that can be slightly disconcerting. (This is most apparent in the collection’s first story, “Guess Who’s Coming to the Dinner”; I think Doyle was still getting used to the format.) Most of them are really excellent, though, and MY GOD did they make me miss Ireland. Possibly Doyle’s number one strength is his ability to capture the rhythm and character of speech; reading his dialogue really does make you feel like you’re listening in on a conversation on an O’Connell Street corner. *sniff* And how much do you wanna bet Siria’s laughing and rolling her eyes at me now? ;-)
Anyway, I’d definitely recommend this, although I’d also recommend that you read The Commitments—and maybe the whole Barrytown Trilogy—first, as one of the stories here is a quasi-sequel to that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be off crying over Aer Lingus ticket prices....more
These short stories suffer from being rather unsubtle and predictable: almost all of them end with an anvilicious “twist” or “punchline”—in fact, twoThese short stories suffer from being rather unsubtle and predictable: almost all of them end with an anvilicious “twist” or “punchline”—in fact, two of them end with the exact same “did you see what I did there?” move. (The horribly shallow subject of the tale—is actually a child! What a sad commentary on our times! *nods solemnly*) There are some interesting ideas or starts of ideas in here, and Harris is certainly a competent and at times quite evocative writer, but the repetitive “buh-dum-ching!” pattern of the endings of almost all these stories—and a weird, unfinished, this-is-stopping-just-as-it’s-getting-interesting aspect to some of the others—really didn’t work for me. Harris says in her introduction that she has a harder time with short fiction than with novels; I empathize, but I shouldn’t be able to see it on the page....more
It’s a strange thing to recognize yourself in a piece of fiction. I see my whole family in Salinger’s. I don’t know what it was about these stories inIt’s a strange thing to recognize yourself in a piece of fiction. I see my whole family in Salinger’s. I don’t know what it was about these stories in particular—even more so than Franny and Zooey—but I felt a shivery sense of resonance reading about the vast Irish/Jewish Glass clan. That’s us—or at least, that’s very much what I imagined when my grandfather talked about growing up in Connecticut and New York and fighting in World War II; it’s what comes to mind when my mom talks about her own New York childhood—which took place a decade after these stories, but still seems to have been alive with the same sort of scenery. And emotionally, too, these crazy, fucked up intellectuals—it’s a little close for comfort.
Salinger’s writing is also just beautiful, and the stories beautifully crafted. He writes actions—not action, but actions—so well: these characters come alive in their fiddly, fidgety motions. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” “The Laughing Man,” and “For Esmé — with Love and Squalor” were my most obvious favorites, but there’s also something about the quiet “Down at the Dinghy” that’s still holding me. I look forward to rereading this many, many times in years to come....more
Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories were originally published scattered through several collections, and never in anything approaching chronological order;Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories were originally published scattered through several collections, and never in anything approaching chronological order; this collection attempts to gather them all together, along with some unpublished stories and snippets, and arrange them so that the narrative moves through Nick’s life—from when he’s a very young boy to when he’s a father of a young son himself. The result was…disappointing. At least to me. I feel the need to qualify these negative statements more than I perhaps usually would, because I am (over)aware of these stories’ status as classics. But in general they just didn’t do much for me.
I know Nick is meant to be an everyman—a clear stand-in for Hemingway himself—but I think Hemingway’s definition of an everyman and mine—and the modern definition, in fact—are very far apart. Thus, I felt I really couldn’t get a handle on him. Hemingway’s writing is very understated; he likes to expose flashes of hidden depths while staying on the surface of things. It didn’t work for me as well in these stories, however, as it does in, say, The Sun Also Rises. Maybe, as a novel, that book allows more time to understand all the things that aren’t being said—to really plumb the subtext. Maybe if I had worked harder, I would have found that here. But Nick stayed pretty obtuse to me. The fact that, despite its claims, this collection’s chronology seemed really iffy to me probably didn’t help.
My favorite parts were the stories where Nick is simply out in the wilderness, being wonderfully competent, and any time Hemingway writes about food. His descriptions of cooking and eating are really some of the best. I’m still drooling at just the thought of a fresh-fried trout.
But then Hemingway’s racism/sexism/whatever would kick back in, and I’d have to grit my teeth to keep reading. Hemingway’s casual use of the N-word in the narration—not even from a character’s mouth, but in the 3rd person narration—really shocked me. I’m not really sure why—I know he was a racist dick—but I was still taken aback.
In a way, parts of this book reminded me of the car magazines where I work: homophobic, and yet at the same time, so hilariously homosocial, it’s ridiculous. My coworkers will turn in copy full of references to shafts, trannies, and lube; Hemingway has one story in here in which Nick callously dumps his girlfriend, then casually greets his friend Bill, who’s been waiting and whose attitude is like, “Oh, good, you got rid of her. Let’s screw—I mean, fish. Our manly bonding activity of fishing is in no way a substitute for boffing like crazy.” Haha, sure. Whatever, dude.
I guess what I’m really saying is, I wish Hemingway had just manned up and written a cookbook....more
And that’s it! I’m done with Salinger. I can’t believe it. Well, there are still a few stories that were published and have been collected in weird, hAnd that’s it! I’m done with Salinger. I can’t believe it. Well, there are still a few stories that were published and have been collected in weird, hard to find places, and I am working to find them. And Hapworth 16, 1924 is supposedly finally coming out next year. But now I’ve hit that inevitable point, moving through such a slim oeuvre—it’s over. I’m sad.
Raise High/Seymour wasn’t my favorite collection or duology—I loved Nine Stories best, definitely. But there are some wonderful things in both these tales. They are both narrated by Buddy Glass, but are incredibly different in tone: Raise High could almost be a madcap comedy, except for the shadow of what everyone knows Seymour will do hanging over it. And An Introduction is a long, meta, confused lament—I’m not sure I fully got every aspect of it, but I was moved nonetheless. Salinger’s prose is so beautiful, and the world he’s created—in sketches and brushstrokes that don’t always fully connect—is one I am desperate to keep exploring. It feels huge and ever-expanding, like real lives, like the history of a real family would be.
I hope that when Salinger dies, much much much more will be released into the world. I will refrain from hoping that this happens soon. I can wait....more
A book of vignettes, each 240 words long, consisting of the thoughts that pass through the minds of characters both historical and imaginary in the miA book of vignettes, each 240 words long, consisting of the thoughts that pass through the minds of characters both historical and imaginary in the minute and a half left of life after they are beheaded. The concept seems gimmicky, and it is, a little—but it’s also, beautifully, beautifully done. I’m a sucker for stream-of-consciousness when it’s done well, and Butler is marvelous at it. He captures voice after voice, experience after experience, emotion after emotion: humanity, in all its beauty, tragedy, and variety. I was quite moved.
May not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it....more