If the name of this classic short story isn't familiar, the premise may be - it's about a legal copyist, the Bartleby of the title, who starts to refuIf the name of this classic short story isn't familiar, the premise may be - it's about a legal copyist, the Bartleby of the title, who starts to refuse work with the immortal words 'I would prefer not to'. I'm glad to be acquainted with the story, but I wouldn't say it's required reading....more
Important facts about this book: 1. These are those kind of stories that are really scenes, slices of characters' lives. Don't expect them to have endiImportant facts about this book: 1. These are those kind of stories that are really scenes, slices of characters' lives. Don't expect them to have endings. (It's not just a stylistic quirk that the subtitle is 'And Other People' instead of 'And Other Stories'. These are sketches of individuals first and foremost.) 2. This is mainly a book about sex and dogs. But not in a weird way. 3. I was impressed with how real (almost) all of these characters felt to me, but something about the stories consistently left me a little cold.
How Am I Supposed To Talk To You? A girl goes to visit her mother in Mexico, armed with a suitcase of Victoria's Secret underwear which the two of them will sell on the beach - 'she said the kids there wanted this underwear more than marijuana'. A good opener for the book, this story sets the tone; it's simple, clean in its prose, careful in its detail, and anticlimatic.
Weekend With Beth, Kelly, Muscle, and Pammy A guy called Jason spends a weekend in New York with his sister and a friend (the other two names in the title - Muscle and Pammy - are different names for the same dog). Along the way he ruminates on his relationship with Beth, his ex-flatmate and one-time lover, who seems to both attract and disgust him. This was my least favourite story of the collection - I didn't find Jason's voice convincing at all; I couldn't believe he was a guy (as opposed to a guy written by a woman, I mean). Thankfully, none of the other stories turned out to be narrated by male characters.
Mike Anonymous In contrast, I loved this one, and I think of all the stories, this was the most original and interesting. The narrator works in a sexual health clinic, and Mike Anonymous is an incomprehensible patient she has to deal with. Fresh and funny and sad.
I Will Crawl To Raleigh If I Have To (I like the fact that some of these story titles sound like emo song titles.) This one's about a girl who's planning to break up with her boyfriend; in fact, she's desperate to break up with him, but her plans are derailed by a family holiday. The American-middle-class-family-vacation stuff was a turn-off, but I loved the narrator's account of her relationship, a great example of the sad/funny balance that Holmes seems to do really well.
Desert Hearts A young woman moves to San Francisco with her boyfriend, who's starting a lucrative role in a law firm. She's got a law degree too, but doesn't want to work in law, partly to spite her father. So she gets a sales job in a sex shop. This was another one of the best, and most comic - the narrator's lies spiral out of control after she pretends to be a lesbian in order to get hired, then has to keep justifying her faux-sexuality to a suspicious colleague.
Pearl and the Swiss Guy Fall In Love An unnamed narrator starts dating a man known only as 'the Swiss guy'. Pearl is her dog, a pit bull who hates men until the Swiss guy comes along. It's only when the narrator lets the Swiss guy move into her apartment, supposedly on a temporary basis, that she realises she doesn't actually like him (while Pearl grows to like him instead). This was fine, but kind of depressing.
New Girls A (pre-teen, young teen?) girl moves from America to Germany with her family. Her story is structured according to a chronological list of the girls she becomes friends - or enemies - with in her new hometown. A good evocation of what it's like to live in an unfamiliar country while young, though the various characters are too briefly described to make a proper impression.
My Humans Given the number of times dogs appear in this book, it isn't really surprising to find one of the stories is narrated by a dog. This charts the disintegration of a relationship - that of the owners - through the eyes of said dog, Princess. I thought this was going to work badly at first, but I liked the way the owners' affection towards the dog was developed. Towards the end, the story becomes more reliant on dialogue, which actually improves it. Quite cleverly done.
Jerks I couldn't remember a thing about this when I came to write this review. Which maybe says a lot. Having skimmed it again, it seems to me that it typifies the book - another one about a postgrad student who moves somewhere (in this case back home with her dad) after a breakup; a character who's broke but has rich parents. The story is about her interest in photography and her experiences with babysitting a troublesome little boy.
Barbara the Slut The blurb says this story follows the title character as she overcomes her high school's toxic slut-shaming culture, which is a buzzwordy way to describe it, but also not actually what happens. The story is set up with this idea that Barbara only sleeps with every boy one time, that this is because she once slept with the same boy more than once and 'it made him dishonest' - but there's no real examination of why Barbara thinks like this, how a girl would come to such a conclusion by the age of sixteen. Which is fine, the story doesn't have to explain that, but because it doesn't, Barbara reads too much like a teen written by an adult, with an adult's hindsight, a too-mature self-possession about sex and the transactional nature of high school relationships. By making her perfect in every other way (she's a fitness-obsessed, straight-A student who wins a place at Princeton while also caring for her autistic brother) the story also felt like it was hitting me over the head with the idea that she couldn't really be a 'slut' because she was objectively a 'good person' - which surely undermines its supposed message. Wouldn't this have been a more interesting and daring story if Barbara's sex life had been the only thing that defined her, and/or had distracted/taken away from other things in her life? If the reader had been challenged to sympathise with her despite that? As it was, the story actually had the opposite impact, as I found the character smug and annoying, and wasn't inclined to sympathise with her individually. (This story annoyed me, can you tell?) In short, I wasn't convinced by anything about the character or scenario at all.
What I really felt this collection needed was greater diversity. All of the stories are written in first person; they're all about young or young-ish people trying to find their way in the world; they're all about American characters from similar backgrounds; they're all set in America in the present day (except 'New Girls', which depicts an American protagonist in Germany, and appears to take place in the late 90s). Even the dog-centric story has much the same tone and focus as the others.
Despite my rant about the final story, I think it's clear from her sharp-eyed prose and the clever humour in stories like 'Mike Anonymous' and 'Desert Hearts' that Holmes is a talent to watch. This book, overall, simply fell a little short of my expectations....more
(Incidentally, I read this entirely on trains.) This short story, verging on novella length, is an odd mixture that doesn't fully work, and I have to(Incidentally, I read this entirely on trains.) This short story, verging on novella length, is an odd mixture that doesn't fully work, and I have to agree with other reviewers that the translation doesn't seem to be very good, with awkward phrases and idioms that have either been translated incorrectly or just don't make sense in English. There's an awkwardness in the themes, too: the idea of sentient trains running 'off the tracks' is, at points, so silly that it's difficult to believe this is supposed to be a story for adults - but Rupert's brain damage wouldn't exactly fit very well into a story for kids. Despite all of this, however, I found something about the story gripping, effective and atmospheric enough that I enjoyed it. Karen's review brought this to my attention, and I agree with her that while parts of it might feel like a bit of a drag, it's worth reading. ...more
Two perfectly formed, heartbreaking short stories from Wharton. In 'Mrs. Manstey's View', an ageing woman is driven to extreme measures to preserve onTwo perfectly formed, heartbreaking short stories from Wharton. In 'Mrs. Manstey's View', an ageing woman is driven to extreme measures to preserve one of her only pleasures: the garden view she enjoys from her room. 'The Reckoning' exposes the machinations at the heart of a relationship, as a wife comes to regret an agreement made with her husband years ago. Having also loved Wharton's ghost stories, I really must read more by her....more