I loved the short story upon which this novel was based. When I read it, I immediately flagged Harrison as a writer whose career I wanted to follow. WI loved the short story upon which this novel was based. When I read it, I immediately flagged Harrison as a writer whose career I wanted to follow. While he clearly has a lot of talent, I can't say I entirely enjoyed this novel. The plot veers off in so many directions from the original great premise of a young mechanic who finds work in the garage of a man he admires and then develops a huge crush on the man's wife. From there, we get sidetracks into a gang of high school boys who do James Dean/East of Eden-like drag racing, a car-thieving scheme and closing chapters (I won't divulge spoilers) that go down the path of familiar scenes we've seen all too often in TV movies (not to mention along the way we also get a gay father who came out of the closet halfway through his marriage, and a mother who became an alcoholic because of it). Through all it, my biggest problem is that the main character Justin does some very weird things that don't feel psychologically true. If he views the owner of the garage as his mentor, I don't fully understand why he would betray him as he does, and how he can carry on the way he does when he's doing it. Now, because I am married to a therapist, I have learned people can react in all kinds of surprisingly different ways to the same set of circumstances, but if a character does act in a wholly unexpected way, it would be great if you got inside their head enough to understand why they're doing the things they are. And for me, there just wasn't enough of that. And Justin's emotions, when we do get them, just aren't that varied. He stays friends with Nick his mentor, and never seem to have any guilt for betraying him. The writing here at the voice and structure level is very good -- but unless you're a mechanic there are sections of description that are impossible to understand. And then the writing turns densely lyrical whenever Justin gets really turned on by Maryann's body (Nick's wife). Maybe I'm jaundiced, but a teenage boy getting aroused by a pretty older woman doesn't seem that extraordinary to me to warrant so many passages of flights of fancy prose. Harrison is still on my watch list, and I look forward to reading what he does next, but this one was a bit of letdown for me....more
Probably like most readers, I've become skeptical of the effusive praise posted on the back of books (after all, how many "voice of a new generation,"Probably like most readers, I've become skeptical of the effusive praise posted on the back of books (after all, how many "voice of a new generation," can you have?). It's rare that the contents of the book live up to the expectations set up by those blurbs. But it's all the more enjoyable when you find yourself wholeheartedly agreeing with those tributes, as I did here. Yes Brad Watson has it exactly right when he says, "It's not often you read stories with this much range, precision, power and emotional depth in a first collection," and author Brock Clarke doesn't appear to be simply helping out a writer friend when he says this collection "is full of big ideas, of startling insights into how we live now." Like a great album, David Poissant's collection doesn't have any "fillers," every story is one you treasure reading. Even the short shorts - a form that usually leaves me cold or scratching my head - are fun and clever. Several stories offer incredibly moving portrayals of people coping with the imminent death of a loved one, but Poissant's canvas is amazingly wide. It's impressive how many unique premises he comes up with.
The writing serves to get you inside the characters and empathize with their plight, even when their actions - throwing a gay son out a window or contemplating an encounter with an underaged girl - are the opposite of admirable. The writing is always sure-handed and never draws undue attention to itself. The one story that makes you conscious of the writing style - because it's written entirely in imperative sentences - works because it bring freshness to a well-worn topic in stories (a spouse losing a partner to cancer). This ranks among the most impressive works of fiction I've read in the past few years.
The 16 stories in the collection are:
1. Lizard Man - 23 pp - A father, Dan, has been living in isolation since he drunkenly threw his teenaged son out a picture window when he discovered him in a gay encounter. A friend asks Dan to take a trip to visit the house of his own estranged father, who just died. They discover an alligator, which they attempt to set free. The whole experience, and discussion with his friend, motivates Dan to try to reconnect with his son.
2. Amputee - 35 pp - A 30-year-old man still reeling from a divorce considers a one-night stand with a beautiful 17-year old girl who only has one arm.
3. 100% Cotton - 4 pp - A short short depicting a scenario - a man being robbed at gunpoint - proves to not be about what it initially seemed.
4. The End of Aaron - 15 pp - Tells a beautiful tale of a young woman's love affair with a mentally ill boyfriend who is convinced the end of the world is coming.
5. Refund - 25 pp - A couple with dead-end jobs has a tiny relic of a development filled with McMansions discover their 6-year-old son is a genius, and in their already troubled marriage, debate how to handle that news. There's a wonderful tension because you understand both of their entrenched views -- the mother wants to ensure their gifted son gets the proper enrichment and stimulation, while the father is determined to let him be a little boy.
6. Knockout - 2 pp - A couple decides to end their marriage by having a boxing match in their front yard, inviting all their neighbors to watch.
7. Last of the Great Land Mammals - 15 pp - A terrific story about two first cousins having an affair with each other, told from the perspective of the woman, who is stuck knowing the lives they've made with other people can't be undone to allow them to be together.
8. What the Wolf Wants - 4 pp - A woman whose brother has just died imagines a talking wolf at her door.
9. The Geometry of Despair, Part I, Venn Diagram - 16 pp - A couple who lost a baby girl to SIDS cope with their first year of grief.
10. The Geometry of Despair/ Part II, Wake the Baby - 5 pp - Five years after the period of part I, the couple now has a one-year old, but they're still dealing with the wife's constant fear that their son might suffer the same fate as their daughter.
11. How to Help Your Husband Die - 12 pp - An incredibly powerful story, about a woman caring for her husband as he's dying of cancer, told in the unique style in that every sentence is an imperative (e.g. "Demand he drive you to both to the emergency room at one. Ask why he didn't see a doctor six months ago.")
12. Me and James Dean - 11 pp - A surprisingly moving story about a man who has an antagonistic relationship with his girlfriend's dog.
13. Nudists - 34 pp - A widow visits a brother he never liked and his wife in San Francisco on Thanksgiving, with the man still very upset that the two of them didn't fly back to East to attend the funeral of his wife whose car slid off an icy bridge and crashed through a frozen river.
14. The Baby Glows - 2 pp - A fun short short about a glowing baby.
15. The Disappearing Boy - 13 pp - Two inseparable 11-year-old friends have a traumatic encounter with older men that changes the course of their friendship.
16. The Heaven of Animals - 40 pp - Dan from the first story is invited by the son from who he's been long estranged to come visit him in La Jolla, California, as he lies, dying of AIDS. [We learn Dan's attempt at reconciliation after the first story went nowhere because his ex-wife refused to allow him to see their son.] Dan doesn't have enough money to fly, so begins a harrowing cross-country drive to try to reunite with his son before he is gone.
Anyone who liked these collection might find just as enjoyable the equally exceptional collections by Anthony Varallo, including Think of Me and I'll Know, Out Loud, and This Day in History or the great collection by Jim Gavin that got a lot of attention last year Middle Men: Stories....more
Ferris's first novel is one of my all-time favorites. The premise of his second one didn't grab me, so I didn't read it, but I was excited for the oppFerris's first novel is one of my all-time favorites. The premise of his second one didn't grab me, so I didn't read it, but I was excited for the opportunity to read another one of his books. There is no denying Ferris has a lot of talent and is incredibly clever, but once I started it, this was not a book I was eager to get back to. As is clear from other reviews, the protagonist is a bit of a misanthropic dentist who finds that someone has taken over his identity and has created a Web page and Twitter account in his name, posting material on some obscure religion (with incendiary and anti-Semitic implications that they were more persecuted than the Jews). A lot of the book is the e-mail exchange between the dentist and the person who has assumed his online identity. I just didn't find these long, continuous and eventually repetitive e-mail exchanges an interesting read. And then the long tales of the lost tribe and religion the identity thief says the dentist belongs to reads like long sections of the old Testament. What action happens outside these sections is mostly the staff at the dentist's office being upset about the online posts. It just doesn't feel like a three-dimensional novel with lots of characters engaged in compelling drama that offers intriguing insights into their characters. Simply put, this was a big disappointment for me. Ferris is experimenting with lots of different ways of storytelling, and he has big themes here about religion and tribal identity, but this one didn't work for me....more