I find it odd that in a post-James Frey world, someone can publish a work of stories he straight-up admits in the introduction are fiction as memoir.I find it odd that in a post-James Frey world, someone can publish a work of stories he straight-up admits in the introduction are fiction as memoir. It's not just that the names are changed: Holt says he's combined and invented; he even gives himself the name "Dr. Harper" in one of the tales. I understand that the labeling of this book was 99% likely to be the publisher's decision, not his, but it messed with my perception of these stories from the beginning.
I also feel that, as fiction as opposed to a straight-forward recounting of the facts, these tales are just not that interesting. There are patients with odd symptoms, à la an episode of House, and some generally fairly weak philosophizing. Maybe it was just the introduction setting me up, but I never believed any of it -- by which I mean, I never engaged with any of it, as fiction or as fact. Holt, or "Harper," comes off as fallible, which is nice, but otherwise entirely lacking in personality. The few other characters -- the no-nonsense nurse with the backpack; the crazy-haired, crazy-talking intern from the psych ward -- come off as either stock or unbelievable. This book was so close to being the type of thing I love, and then there was just...a false note, and it wasn't.
What pretentious garbage. I've yet to tackle Wolf Hall, but this short story collection makes me think that I should permanently let myself off the hoWhat pretentious garbage. I've yet to tackle Wolf Hall, but this short story collection makes me think that I should permanently let myself off the hook, because if they're anything to go by, Mantel is desperately overrated. ...more
One good thing about Connie Willis' disappointing Blackout/All Clear duology: it made me want to read more about the World War II home front. Good EveOne good thing about Connie Willis' disappointing Blackout/All Clear duology: it made me want to read more about the World War II home front. Good Evening, Mrs. Craven is an incredible discovery: written during the war, these short stories convey the ordinary heroism, uncertainty, and tumultuous passions behind the stiff-upper-lip Britishness that the best parts of Willis' novel capture. But, allow me to emphasize, Panter-Downes' stories were written during the war. She was a correspondent for The New Yorker who for something like 40 years wrote their "Letter From England" column, as well as a fictitious piece every few months over the course of the conflict. The stories are as delicately written, subtle, and incisive as anything in James Joyce's infinitely better-known Dubliners, and it gives me chills to think that they were composed when the outcome of the war was still very much in doubt. Rewatch Casablanca sometime, keeping in mind that it was released in 1942 when V-E day was still several years away; read these stories in the same spirit. This is truly heroic fiction....more
Wow, people really seem to hate this. I'm guessing that's about 50 percent because it's a collection of short stories focusing on fucked-up teenagersWow, people really seem to hate this. I'm guessing that's about 50 percent because it's a collection of short stories focusing on fucked-up teenagers being violent and despairing and awful to themselves and others, and 50 percent because it's a collection like that written by James Franco, who is hotter and richer and more famous than you are. I'm divided 50/50 myself on how much it would suck to be a James Franco coming out with your debut literary effort, compared to Jo(e) Blow: on the one hand, James Franco is almost guaranteed a publishing deal and some attention; on the other hand, people are far less likely to be immediately dismissive of Jo(e) Blow because they are confused at/enraged by/busy masturbating to how pouty and biteable Franco's lips look in his author photo.
But setting all that aside for a minute: is this collection worth reading at all? I think so; I think it paints a lively-voiced, accurate, occasionally incisive, and at times darkly funny portrait of teenage nihilism that's scary because it's full of the things most people don't want to recognize as true. Now, my teenage years were not like those presented in this collection, but they touched upon others that were—enough that I shivered to feel near to that again. The Palo Alto of James Franco's mind is definitely not a place I want to spend a lot of time.
Which is one of the many things that makes this collection far from perfect: in adhering so tightly to a theme, all of the stories in this book do eventually begin to feel the same; they're almost oppressive in their sameness. Franco is also not exactly covering untouched territory here—although he is, I think, covering it well—but it would be interesting to see him push himself, try something different, new. And, okay: what a thing for me to demand of a guy who's acting, writing, doing weird art exhibits, and getting multiple graduate degrees, but there you go. You're famous, people start having weird expectations for you.
So instead, how about this: this may not be the best short story collection ever, James, or even anywhere close; but I'm fascinated that you wrote it, that it's as raw as you made it, that it exists at all. Please keep fascinating me, however you may choose to do so.
Another forgettable short story collection! I remember that one tale had some arty types living in a loft, and someone had cancer in one of them, andAnother forgettable short story collection! I remember that one tale had some arty types living in a loft, and someone had cancer in one of them, and there was also maybe a camel. Other than that, there were the typical unresolved endings and a lot of spoiled, unpleasant people being spoiled and unpleasant. Nine times out of ten, I should just stop with the modern short story collections, huh? But that one time...that elusive one time...! Dammit. We all already know that I never learn....more
Not at all what it says on the tin. I often very much enjoy Holmes pastiches that pit him and Watson against the supernatural or uncanny, but despiteNot at all what it says on the tin. I often very much enjoy Holmes pastiches that pit him and Watson against the supernatural or uncanny, but despite the purported goal of the collection, only about half of these stories fit into that category. (The other half, Adams says in the introduction, were basically included as a giant red herring, to which I say: boo.) But, supernaturally-fueled or not, nearly all of these were just really, really dull and forgettable; I had to force myself to the end—something that should never happen with my beloved Holmes! Upon review, the only two stories that I really liked were Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald,” which I have only read a billion times previously, as it has been collected everywhere; and Naomi Novik’s “Commonplaces,” which is absolutely fantastic—beautifully characterized and written—but in which the supposedly improbable element is the assertion that Holmes and Watson were lovers. Pish!
I would like to see “Commonplaces” collected in other books, because then this one would truly be completely unnecessary....more
Chesterton is perhaps best known for his Father Brown stories, so I was deeply disappointed to find that they represent him at his preachy, intolerantChesterton is perhaps best known for his Father Brown stories, so I was deeply disappointed to find that they represent him at his preachy, intolerant worst. If I’d started here, instead of with the wonderfully weird and delightfully dark The Man Who Was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill, I would have had no desire to pick up anything by Chesterton again. All of these stories seem to revolve around the irritatingly smug Father Brown proving that some type of non-Christian is wrong wrong WRONG about everything, the poor, deluded, and occasionally murderous souls.
Aside from being pious, preachy, and at times outright racist, these tales also just aren’t very good from the detective story standpoint, either. The Sherlock Holmes stories continue to be fascinating because Holmes is, because his relationship with Watson is, because the way he interacts with the world is. Father Brown’s character has less color than his name, and although Chesterton makes the occasional attempt at providing him with a sidekick, he’s never truly given anyone to confide in or bounce off of, as Holmes has in Watson. Father Brown is lost without his Boswell. And he can stay there, as far as I’m concerned....more
More short stories, of varying quality, and with many wandering into the dime a dozen, disaffected young hipster side of things. Yawn. But a couple ofMore short stories, of varying quality, and with many wandering into the dime a dozen, disaffected young hipster side of things. Yawn. But a couple of these were really good. I especially liked the apocalyptic Tetris story. With all the books, and specifically short story collections, that I read, I tend to feel pretty impressed if an author manages to write even one story that sticks with me so favorably. That's how I feel about this Tetris story. And, uh. That's not a sentence I get to write often....more
The word I keep wanting to use to describe this short story collection is “masculine.” Customers give me weird looks when I do this. But I suppose it'The word I keep wanting to use to describe this short story collection is “masculine.” Customers give me weird looks when I do this. But I suppose it's still better than the other phrase I could use: “Whoa-ho-ho, hello, daddy issues!”
This is a collection all about manly men in the height of their manliness, doing manly things like hunting deer and having questionable affairs with questionable women, all while suffering from some seriously bad cases of Manpain (a.k.a. Mangst), and failing to connect with their fathers and/or brothers. It's really quite good though. Tower's writing is incisive and vivid, and these stories frequently don't go where one might expect. Nor do they just...trail off, end unresolved, like my least favorite but highly common type of short story does. The emotional stakes are high here, folks! Reading this collection will leave you feeling rather ravaged. And kind of like you might want to don a bunch of plaid and pose for the front of a Brawny paper towels package....more
Whoa! Unexpected cannibalism is unexpected! I mean, I guess on the one hand, it shouldn’t be—this is Tennessee Williams, after all; I’ve read SuddenlyWhoa! Unexpected cannibalism is unexpected! I mean, I guess on the one hand, it shouldn’t be—this is Tennessee Williams, after all; I’ve read Suddenly Last Summer. But still. That’ll make sure you’re paying attention.
These short stories veered wildly between being sort of tragic and awesome, and being kind of ridiculously OTT and bad. The earlier ones were my favorites; by the time I reached the last story, which was written in the ’70s, I felt like I was reading C-level Armistead Maupin shenanigans. The whole collection has left me feeling confused, but not entirely in a bad way? I don’t know. It’s also possible that my brain simply never recovered from the SURPRISE CANNIBALISM....more
I think I like the design of this short story collection better than anything else about it, even the Kate Atkinson story (which was good but not closI think I like the design of this short story collection better than anything else about it, even the Kate Atkinson story (which was good but not close to her best). The tales themselves were a mixture, some good, some bad, with no real standouts. I still want the other books in this series, though. THEY ARE JUST SO PRETTY....more
After slogging through the first story in this collection, I realized that rather than make myself grind through the whole book, I could just read theAfter slogging through the first story in this collection, I realized that rather than make myself grind through the whole book, I could just read the one story I checked it out from the library for: the one by Naomi Novik, which was excellent. And now, mission accomplished, I can take the book back, guilt-free!
This may seem like a duh thing to most of you, but I feel very adult and proud of this revelation....more
I love Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day intensely, but I found this collection of five thematically interrelated short stories disappointing. They’reI love Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day intensely, but I found this collection of five thematically interrelated short stories disappointing. They’re not badly written or anything, but they’re very plain and unexciting. They don’t build to anything, either each alone or all together. “Okay,” one thinks upon finishing, and then moves along, unaffected. Whereas I still mentally return to the beautiful, perfectly controlled narration of The Remains of the Day all the time.
I perhaps have a new criteria for books, since I read so much, and that’s to ask: would it matter to me at all if I had skipped this one and read something else instead? In the case of Nocturnes, not really. I mean, I’d still rather have read this than one of the execrable books that made an impact by being appallingly awful, but that’s damning with faint praise, isn’t it?...more
Excellent short story collection. I’m not a fan of open-ended, snippety short stories that don’t really go anywhere and lack resolution, so I was realExcellent short story collection. I’m not a fan of open-ended, snippety short stories that don’t really go anywhere and lack resolution, so I was really impressed and pleased with how complete each of Meloy’s tales seems. Over and over again, she creates rich characters and puts them in complex situations, and the stories are all different, so the collection never starts to seem samey. Not to mention: is that a great title or what?...more
Why do I find published erotica so boring, and dirty fanfic so endlessly entertaining? Well, I suppose one theory could be that few erotic authors seeWhy do I find published erotica so boring, and dirty fanfic so endlessly entertaining? Well, I suppose one theory could be that few erotic authors seem to do much to make me care about their characters, and I am a big girl who needs her porn to pack some emotional wallop. Possibly true! But also, most of these stories--as with most of the erotica I've read--are just not hot. I guess my kinks just do not line up very well with the rest of the erotica-reading world?
This collection was better than the last one I read. I am intrigued by the blending of horror and sex, and a few of the stories in this book pulled off something interesting with the combo. This book is also beautifully designed, which is one of the main reasons I picked it up. (I think you're allowed to be shallow when reading about sex.)
The other reason I picked it up is that it has a story by Supernatural writer Sera Gamble in it. I don't think I'm letting any sort of bias/developing girlcrush affect me when I say that it's the standout tale. Actual characters and plot and thinky thoughts! Plus sex. That's how it should be done, guys....more
The first short story in this book set the tone for the entire collection: it had an interesting concept, it was well-written, and it went on way, wayThe first short story in this book set the tone for the entire collection: it had an interesting concept, it was well-written, and it went on way, way too long. For the first few stories, the process repeated: Millhauser hooked me, then lost me. By the time I reached the end of the book, I just wanted it to be over: all the stories had begun to seem the same. So much white boy angst, so many poorly (or barely) written female characters, and the good stuff—Millhauser’s sparks of ideas that are at times quite brilliant—buried under repetitive scenarios that you wish, like an overlong movie scene, had terminated just a few crucial pages/minutes/cycles earlier. This book needed a strong editor’s hand and clearly did not get it....more