Sometimes short stories really do beat novels: they can take you deeper, or fling you wider beyond, or push you past certain boundaries. This is what...moreSometimes short stories really do beat novels: they can take you deeper, or fling you wider beyond, or push you past certain boundaries. This is what I felt after I'd finished Pia Z. Ehrhardt's slim, tight, gorgeously clear collection of stories--many which I'd read before, albeit not with the same concentration, in lit mags and web journals. Contemporary short stories, where the voice often counts for more than the narrative, can be unsatisfactory, at times pretentious, other times superfluous. Not so with 'Famous Fathers' where the voice recalls a more melancholic Antonya Nelson or a less sardonic Maile Meloy: the tone here can vary from quiet desperation to quiet tragedy to quiet emotional damage--whichever it is, 'quiet' certainly defines the tone, which in my view only serves to heighten the pathos and raise the contemporary stakes.
I'm disappointed to not find more from this author, and await eagerly for a novel. (less)
The first time I read Hoffman's short stories was in art school, where our main professor's most obsessive obsession was German Expressionism (which I...moreThe first time I read Hoffman's short stories was in art school, where our main professor's most obsessive obsession was German Expressionism (which I love), a natural extension of German Romanticism (which I also love). They were a total revelation, especially because--more than, say, English-language Gothic writing a la Edgard Allan Poe, all which I also love--we were all blown away by the 'depth' of psychological insight. Sometimes it was almost uncanny, as if Hoffman's writing leaned literally close the nerve. Billed as 'fantasy' and 'horror', these stories actually are in line with themselves, crossing over into early 20th Century surrealism. It's easy to see how he influenced so many luminaries of other artistic forms--such as ballet creators or Hitchcock.
Now, rereading and continuing to read each and every one of his short stories--and IN Germany!--I notice things I missed 20 years ago. Like the similarities with, for example, Freud and even Kant. And the intense connection to that infamous and always present German 'Angst'.
'The Sandman' is, of course, a masterpiece, but I think my favorite is 'Doge and Dogaressa'. These stories have bite and need to be read more than once, which I plan to do. But I think I will try next one of his novels, see how he blends his sarcastic viewpoint in a long form.(less)
Well, I guess 'American' and 'masculine' (not capitalized) is pretty much the one strong thing I can say about this short-story collection: literary t...moreWell, I guess 'American' and 'masculine' (not capitalized) is pretty much the one strong thing I can say about this short-story collection: literary to a fault, meaning that it reads like a Richard Ford or Raymond Carver or even Sam Shepard (saving the differences) parody, and so self-congratulatory that if the author had been standing next to me while I read I'd have slapped him! Another problem beyond the mediocre writing is that the voice never truly sounds 'masculine'--this is, in my estimation, just a diffident nerd hiding behind big words.(less)
I've just gotten 5 big boxes of books from the old house and it's thrilling to discover so many of the ones I loved reading then--but Flower Children...moreI've just gotten 5 big boxes of books from the old house and it's thrilling to discover so many of the ones I loved reading then--but Flower Children just isn't one of them. I remember I received it as a pre pub from friends in publishing, and I'd tried to feel the writing without impact from the hype around it, but it was near impossible. Maxine Swann is actually a pretty good writer and her other book, Serious Girls, struck me as better than this one, but overall the problem here is that to me she's not a) as good a writer as she believes herself and is hyped up to be and b) maybe because the expectation is higher than the talent, a lot of the writing goes flat. The idea behind the writing--kids brought up by narcissistic, blind hippie parents--is actually far more interesting that anything OF interest that her writing has to say on the subject, and that's where the entire enterprise seems doomed.
I always had--and still have--the feeling that reviewers find Swann's background and life story (plus the fact that she's pretty and photographs well) so fascinating that they either overlook a sort of basic mediocrity or simply take less for more from it. On her mother's side, Maxine Swann comes from a certain kind of 'high' NY family residing like people in an Edith Whartom novel (they probably did, way back then, anyway) but her mother, typically baby boomer, rebelled and ran off to be a hippie, with enough obsession to continue hippiedom even after it's sell-by date. This is the context fot Swann's childhood, later on even more individualized by fancy prep schools and fancy ivy league colleges, plus years in Paris, married to an Argentine and now even an expat in Buenos Aires. It all makes for wonderful copy--how disappointing, then, that at times this is all it is, really: smart copy.(less)