I loved Nathan Englander's debut collection of short stories For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. There were moments in that book that I felt like BernI loved Nathan Englander's debut collection of short stories For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. There were moments in that book that I felt like Bernard Malamud (a writer I love so outlandishly that tears come to my eyes when I type his name) was walking among us again.
Englander's new collection shook in my hands as I opened it - my excitement was so great, my longing so intense. For the most part, he delivers. Here are the highlights:
Best story: The title story is a hilarious and poignant depiction of two couples playing a parlour game that becomes a serious comment on themselves and the holocaust. It's part satire, part spoof, part homage to Raymond Carver, but it's a powerful piece of writing that gets the collection off with a bang.
Best story runner up: All of the other stories. There isn't a story that isn't at least good in the batch. Englander explores many different modes of story telling and the collection is quite varied. Some are long on history, some take place in the Middle East, some here in America, some seem painfully autobiographical and some seem archtypal. For my money, the other two stories that I'd recommend are How We Avenged the Blums and Free Fruit for Young Widows.
Best section in a story: The third part of the Sister Hills is a magnificent tale of ancient superstitions meeting the modern world. I felt like Englander was channelling I.B. Singer in this tale of a girl who must abandon her family and take care of a neighbor because of an oath her mother took a quarter of a century earlier. Englander is giving us a history of the Israeli settlements in this, at times absurdist, tale of two founding families.
Best passage in the book: In Peep Show, the overwrought Allen imagines that he sees his mother before him. Englander writes, "Allen's mother is wearing stockings and garters. In the place where other such women keep tips, she has a wad of Kleenex." "Do you need some tissue, Ari? Did you remember to bring?" She gets up to hand him some.
That passage is funny all on its own, but for me it has some personal meaning. The only time that I wish my wife was more like my mother is when I'm somewhere and need a tissue. My wife never has them and my Jewish mother always had them. I've brought this issue up time and time again with my wife, to no avail. I showed her the Englander story and she said, "Okay, okay I get it. But I still don't see why you can't carry your own tissue." ...more
In some ways Bergman does everything right in these stories. They are well crafted with interesting characters and their plots move along with a goodIn some ways Bergman does everything right in these stories. They are well crafted with interesting characters and their plots move along with a good amount of tension. However, reading them one after another I began to sense the craft too much -- the subplots surfacing just at the right time, the backstory slowly unfolding, the hard earned direct statements. By the end, I longed for a rambling, poorly plotted that would just break the mold and challenge me.
I think I would have liked these stories better if I'd read them one at a time. I often feel that way after a collection of poetry. If I'd stumble upon a poem or two in a magazine I'd think they were magnificent, but reading 35 in a row is too much.
I'd recommend the title story, Yesterday's Whales, Housewifely Arts and the Right Company. All of them are strong stories in their own right. They highlight Bergman's strengths of writing about woman and animals in unsentimental ways. ...more
Hadley does a beautiful job of capturing the everyday aspects of people's lives. The quotidian becomes dramatic in her hands. I appreciate how deftlyHadley does a beautiful job of capturing the everyday aspects of people's lives. The quotidian becomes dramatic in her hands. I appreciate how deftly her stories are plotted and how succinctly her characters are drawn.
Perhaps the simplest story in the book is Journey Home and yet it reveals all of Hadley's strengths. Alec, an art historian, is headed home from Venice. When the story begins he is mildly concerned about his sister because she changed her relationship status on facebook. As he takes one last look at his favorite works of art before heading out of the city, his concerns gradually intensifies. The reader picks up a few more salient details included that she tried to commit suicide seven years earlier. When Alec is stuck in the Paris airport and his sister still hasn't responded to his calls or texts he really begins to fret. The tension builds beautifully as Hadley slowly unwinds the story and gives out nuggets of the siblings' history. I won't give away the ending, but she absolutely nails it.
I loved the stories Married Love, A Mouthful of Cut Glass, and She's the One. There's not a failure in this book but a few not radiate as strongly as the others....more
A dozen stories filled with violence and vengeance set amongst the destitute in the Ozarks. Woodrell's pieces feature quick snaps and premeditated actA dozen stories filled with violence and vengeance set amongst the destitute in the Ozarks. Woodrell's pieces feature quick snaps and premeditated acts of cruelty. He writes tightly and his characters actions are understandable. The way he gets in the minds of the violent reminds me of Joyce Carol Oates at her finest.
The most haunting piece for me was Night Stand. A Vietnam vet kills an Iraq vet when he awakes to find the younger man standing naked over his bed in the middle of the night. He finds a knife that he didn't even realize was in the room and before you know it, the man is dead at his feet. When his actions come under scrutiny, his wife, who had run terrified from the bed when she saw the groaning intruder, reacts with the best line in the book. "Maybe that last stab could've been skipped, hon. The neck one."
Woodrell doesn't skip any of the well-timed zingers in this book filled with quirky characters....more
This is a perfect story. Melville doesn't miss a single word in this masterpiece. I first read it in high school and it was quite inspiring. I told evThis is a perfect story. Melville doesn't miss a single word in this masterpiece. I first read it in high school and it was quite inspiring. I told everyone that "I prefer not to," for a few weeks until my teachers, friends and family started to ignore me. Barleby is a singular character. The law clerk who slowly refuses to do any work, and then refuses to even keep himself alive. What truly makes the story is the narrator. The employer who can't throw Barteby out, who cares for him. The lawyer puts up with all sorts of oddities from his other clerks, but nothing quite like Bartlby. It's such a wonderful piece. I've often felt like this about some of our lost employees at the bookstore over the years. ...more
There are several magnificent stories in this debut collection. Nadler knows how to tell a story and create original characters. In the title story, tThere are several magnificent stories in this debut collection. Nadler knows how to tell a story and create original characters. In the title story, two businessmen and longtime friends are lead astray by misguided affairs that threaten both their personal and professional relationships. This story as well as most others is told in either a tight third-person point of view or in the first person. Nadler does a great job of getting into the heads of these characters, many of them either cuckolded or doing the cuckolding. In the two tales that didn't work so well, I think he lost his focus on the narrative a bit. This is especially true in Catherine and Henry where the story switches back and forth between the two. The reader never feels quite grounded and the plot of the story feels unrealistic. However, even that story is very entertaining and contains many "aha" moments....more
A magnificent collection of linked stories that shows the vibrancy, the diversity, the suppleness of the short story form. Diaz's writing is humorousA magnificent collection of linked stories that shows the vibrancy, the diversity, the suppleness of the short story form. Diaz's writing is humorous on the surface, but deeply moving and insightful once you dig in. Every story is remarkable. He brings the contemporary immigrant experience to the fore as well as having remarkably cogent things to say about relationships and friendships.
Several of the stories are written in the second person -- a form I usually avoid. I don't like its directness, as if the author is telling me what I do or who I like or how I think. I understand that using "you" is a stand in for "I", but it so often doesn't work. In Diaz's hands it seems like the perfect way to tell a story. How can a story be told any other way.
This collection reaches its height with a trio of stories about Yunior's (the narrator's)brother. Those stories, "The Pura Principle", "Nilda," "Invierno" almost from a tighter link within the rest of the book.
The focus of the book seems to be the creative ways that Yunior loses women. His womanizing, his inablity to realize until things are over that he cared for someone is repeated in story after story. Because of that, the stories involving his brother Rafa seem to sneak up on the reader. Rafa's not a particularly likeable character and he treats women even worse than his younger brother, but his tragic life illuminates his brother's situation. It makes you rethink Yunior's actions and difficulties in forming relationships.
There are so many reasons I love Diaz's writing -- the propulsion of his narrative, his unique characters, the directness of his voice that it doesn't really matter what he writes about. No one strings words together quite like him. When people ask, "who is he like?" The answer is no one. That's the highest compliment that I can give. ...more
A collection of short stories set in the Crazy Mountains of Montana in the town of Buckle. Chamberlain writes relatively simple stories that evoke theA collection of short stories set in the Crazy Mountains of Montana in the town of Buckle. Chamberlain writes relatively simple stories that evoke the rugged landscape and the men and women who work with the land and the animals that inhabit it. Stacking is a brilliant story that tells the history of hay baling while revealing three generations of heartbreak between two families. Heartbreak seems to be a common condition in Chamberlain's world. In The Tracks of Animals a woman is seemingly deserted by her husband only to find out the truth in a great twist at the end. In Horse Thieves a young woman's heart is pushed to the edge for the love a newborn foal....more
I read the original mass market edition of this book published by Fawcett in 1988. Mass market is now the territory of thrillers, romance, science ficI read the original mass market edition of this book published by Fawcett in 1988. Mass market is now the territory of thrillers, romance, science fiction and mysteries. You won't find Zadie Smith or Junot Diaz or Ian McEwan published in the compact paperbacks like literary authors were in the 1980s.
The first few pages are devoted to excerpts from reviews. That's standard practice now, but what I loved about these reviews is that they highlight what different reviewers around the country said about individual stories. At the end of the book there are eight pages about Updike's earlier books including quotes, descriptions and some hyperbole. It just made me want to dive in and read it all.
As for the stories, they are mostly superb. Almost all of them involve marraiges dealing in one way or the other with infidelity. Updike deals with this theme in so many different ways that it never gets tired or trite. His language, the way he describes people and places, is simply gorgeous. The longer stories (More Stately Mansions, The Other and The Other Woman) take on the depth and complexity of novels. Updike's plotting is suspenseful and many of the stories feature a little twist, a slight subtle line at the end that arrives like a revelation.
There are three excellent stories in this collection. Lion and Panther in London is about two Indian brothers who go to London in 1910 to wrestle. TheThere are three excellent stories in this collection. Lion and Panther in London is about two Indian brothers who go to London in 1910 to wrestle. They are the champions of India, but they are having difficulty arranging matches in England. James does an extraordinary job in getting inside their world and how everything they think of as honorable, is corrupt and pathetic in England. Eventually, they are tainted by the corruption, even though they continue to act with honesty. What to Do with Henry chronicles the lives of a family that adopts a chimp. It doesn't go well. James wrings heartrending moments out of this story without resorting to cheap sentiment.
Perhaps the finest story in the collection is Light & Luminous. Minal Auntie runs an Indian classical dance school in Illinois. She's contending with two problems in the story, one is her niece who has enrolled and really has no business being at the school and the other is a new Indian dance school that has opened and is taking her pupils. James does a wonderful job showing how Minal Auntie has never quite acclimated herself to American life. In the heat of crisis she goes back against her most cherish beliefs. It's a beautiful story of how hard it can be to immigrate.
The rest of the collection is a bit uneven. Girl Marries Ghost is a real clunker while the Scriptological Review: A Last Letter from the Editor feels a bit gimicky. The other stories help illuminate the cultural divide facing Indians (southern Indians in particular) in trying to make it in the states. There are beautiful moments in these storeis but they don't hold up as well as Light and Luminous. ...more
Dynamite short stories that never fail to surprise. I loved his characters and settings. At times his tales are a bit dour, but his prose spurs you onDynamite short stories that never fail to surprise. I loved his characters and settings. At times his tales are a bit dour, but his prose spurs you on to finish them even when you want to turn away. I thought Adult Beginner was the strongest tale of story in the book. It's about a woman who learns to swim as an adult and finds herself jumping off a building into a river. MacLeod does an excellent job of weaving in the back story of her fear of water with the current scene on top of the building....more