I was close to giving this one a 5. The writing is strong, the tones and voices and perspectives were generally ambitious and appropriate to the plot
I was close to giving this one a 5. The writing is strong, the tones and voices and perspectives were generally ambitious and appropriate to the plots and themes, and and many of not most of the plots read as original and unexpected and mature. For instance, the story about the children at Tanner School and the one about the girls in the house in college were so good; the collective narration in the latter was ambitious and impressive, and the children in the former felt real and genuine and fully realized and understood. But she displays some major tics here (it's possible that some of these have disappeared with time; this is her first collection of short stories, after all) and sometimes the language/details felt like things that should have been taken out or changed in the revision stage - like something someone surely called out in a workshop at some point as a "darling" that needed to be "killed," as they say (and I feel almost certain that this was the collection of stories she turned in as her MFA thesis turned into a book, which means that the stories were likely extensively workshopped; but if I'm right, it was a damn good MFA thesis, and it deserved to be a book).
For example, almost every character (and I agree that they often felt interchangeable - except when they didn't, and those few were great) "snorts" a laugh or in derision at some point in the story. Only one or two characters in a collection should be allowed to have the same tic. It takes you out of the story and too far into the writer's head when the same thing happens in 3/5 of the stories in a book. The female characters, especially, are typically - almost exclusively - girls who are sarcastic and temperamental but not so much so that they are unlikeable but just enough so that they're "tough" and "different," a character type that could have manifested itself in different ways and made the collection feel more varied and Nissen seem smarter. It almost felt like this manuscript was the golden child at Iowa that year (and it was; it won an award from Iowa) and no one questioned it the way no one questions more established authors when they make dodgy choices. Obviously, I'm making that up based on my own assumptions, but if it had just had a little more pushback, I think it could have been just glorious where now it's only (only!) clever and highly ambitious and powerful with a definitive point of view, yet a tiny bit muted and a little too singular in its perspective.
That being said, the stories are observant and smart and well written. They pull you in when you wouldn't think you'd be interested in that plot or that character. Nissen has a clear and strong narrative voice and instinct for language. I will read more of her work happily, but there are just a few things about this collection that disappoint me because I feel like, with just one more editorial sweep, it could have been near perfect. E...more
It's not that it was bad; it was a perfectly fine biography of Neutral Milk Hotel (I admit she did a good job of looking at the way Jeff Mangum's beenIt's not that it was bad; it was a perfectly fine biography of Neutral Milk Hotel (I admit she did a good job of looking at the way Jeff Mangum's been exalted to God status while at the same time acknowledging his voice and talent and making him seem like a real person on the page, as she did with the rest of the players; it was also a biography of Neutral Milk Hotel that admittedly used "Aeroplane" as a centerpiece). But I didn't want to read a biography of Neutral Milk Hotel. I wanted to read a book about the album as an album, as a text. I think this is my first 33 1/3 book, so maybe this is just what they are like. It's probably hard to sell many people on the idea of a book about an album as a text. But it could still be mainstream; I can imagine it working. I wouldn't even mind if she interspersed recording info into the analysis. Plus, her analysis of the lyrics was generally flat and just bad, especially considering all the information to which she had access, so I wouldn't want it in her hands, but still. I mean, it was enjoyable. It was wasn't why I bought the book. I guess I should have test-driven it.
If this is what 33 1/3 does to it's "Boys for Pele" book (which will probably never actually come out anyway), I'm going to be so fucking mad. I already know everything publicly available about Tori Amos!
(Also, it took me so long to read such a short book because I started it one day thinking I'd just finish it over the weekend but then got absorbed in something else, never did, and then took it with me to BEA because I didn't want to carry around JCO's gigantic fucking memoir when I knew I'd be picking up a bunch of free galleys AND would have to trek myself over to the A train from the Javits Center every day. So, really, I did finish it in 2.5 days, they were just dispersed.)...more
Used mostly to get a history of HBO (before "Essential HBO Reader" came out) for this paper about The Wire being syndicated on BET. It's informative aUsed mostly to get a history of HBO (before "Essential HBO Reader" came out) for this paper about The Wire being syndicated on BET. It's informative and was useful to me, but I don't see any real reason why anyone who wasn't writing about HBO or something would want to read it....more
Used this for the thesis, but it's not nearly as informative or good as The Wire book. It's a little more "coffee table" than "book shelf," if that maUsed this for the thesis, but it's not nearly as informative or good as The Wire book. It's a little more "coffee table" than "book shelf," if that makes sense. Wouldn't recommend it to anyone....more