This book is a solid 2.5; half the stories are great and half of them - YEESH.
The good news first. "Wings," the book's midway novella, is sad and lov...moreThis book is a solid 2.5; half the stories are great and half of them - YEESH.
The good news first. "Wings," the book's midway novella, is sad and lovely. "Referential" broke my heart because I am somehow a sucker for these mother figures writing about their demonized sons (We Need to Talk About Kevin - I mean dang, that book was SO GOOD).
Okay, actually that's only 2 of 8 stories, so the math doesn't quite work, but Moore gets one sympathy star because she is Lorrie Moore and another star based solely on her sentences. God, but she can write a sentence.
It has been a long time since I read Birds of America, but when I did, it rattled my world. Here was wit! Here was misery! Here was everything I thought a woman writer should be! This was, children, 2007, years before GIRLS or blogs or Twitter. Lorrie Moore was the gateway lady writer drug that exposed me to all the women writers I'd come to mimic in my own work.
I read A Gate at the Stairs and remember being underwhelmed - like a lot of her novels, it felt like a story stretched way too thin. So, here, in 2014, I am not so idolatrous of L.M. as I used to be, but still. Still.
Lorrie. We know America sucks. We know CNN is a buzzkill. We know the government is all screwy and there's awful things on the Internet and politics are demented and immoral and bad, bad, bad. If I want this kind of stimulus, there are appx ONE ZILLION message boards and comment threads I could waste my time reading.
Damn near every one of these stories addresses the politics of America, and yes, it's important, and yes, I agree with her opinions, but Lorrie. Lorrie! I want to read about the woman who dropped her neighbor's baby; I want to read about the size 14 dancer. I want to read Agnes, of Iowa without her giving me a lecture on the caucus there.
Put down the newspaper. Turn off the TV. Please. Where is the heart in all this? Where are the emotions? This is a bad show, part quippy one-liners, part House of Cards opinion, featuring the same pathetic, middle-aged woman who doesn't know when to let a joke breathe and keep her opinions to herself.
I'm sorry, Lorrie Moore. You have a special place in my heart right next to Updike, who also once wooed me, until he turned into a dirty old man. (less)
Equal parts heart-breaking and perverse, but in the best possible way. I had high hopes for this book and it definitely lived up; these stories are sw...moreEqual parts heart-breaking and perverse, but in the best possible way. I had high hopes for this book and it definitely lived up; these stories are swift, cruel, and sharp, but 9 times out of ten, Hunter slams on a last line that does what every good last line should do - lifts and expands and gives the story one hell of a view. Favorites: "Clocks," "Dishes," "Nixon in Retirement," "Gerald's Wife," "Me and Hardy." I did knock off a star with reluctance only for the "Wait, what?" factor of some of the stories - I felt like they need a second read but I was too damn excited about what came next. I can't wait to see what Hunter does next. (less)
WRITER CRUSH ALERT WRITER CRUSH OH MY GOD I MEAN OH MY GOD!!!!
Okay. So. I read a Brian Evenson story in the Library of America's "Fantastic Tales" ant...moreWRITER CRUSH ALERT WRITER CRUSH OH MY GOD I MEAN OH MY GOD!!!!
Okay. So. I read a Brian Evenson story in the Library of America's "Fantastic Tales" anthology and sought him out immediately. Sadly, I couldn't get my hands on any of his work and so it was a while before I remembered his name and looked him up in the library. And Jesus. I mean, wow.
Violent, disturbing, poetic, eerie, haunting. It's smart horror. Maybe the smartest horror of all time? The opening lines were works of art. It's the kind of book that I enjoyed so much I felt bad about how much I enjoyed it, given the content (like saying "Seven" is one of my favorite movies - it's disgusting and creepy but SO GOOD). The nameless wasteland and the crazed inhabitants of a lone fortress; the little boy who finds his step-father's mouth sewn shut, crammed with bees; the trucker who drives from CA to TX, accumulating bodies he carves along the way. Terrifying and stellar, and written with a lyricism and ear that just makes the stories that much more unsettling.
Evenson himself I give all the possible stars, but this collection, his first, at times felt like he was literally fucking around. "Job Eats them Raw, With the Dogs," threw me for a loop and not in a nice way - there's a fine line between surrealism (weird, moving) and absurdity (ridiculous, nonsense).
This isn't bad, it just isn't that great. Diaz reminds me of a friend of mine who would swap stories with me outside of workshop, except my friend is...moreThis isn't bad, it just isn't that great. Diaz reminds me of a friend of mine who would swap stories with me outside of workshop, except my friend is better. The language is swift but I don't know a speck of Spanish and not sure what's gained by forcing the reader to skim every other sentence. And Yunior is never really redeemed, nor is he particularly likeable.
Also please someone explain this ridiculous cover to me. It looks like a glitched minecraft valentine.
EDIT: Just found a Diaz quote: "Motherfuckers will read a book that is 1/3 Elvish but put two sentences in Spanish and they think we're taking over."
This is definitely a valid opinion, but I feel the difference is we know what made-up words are in context. At some point, J.K. Rowling told us the monetary value of a Knut or Tolkien described that weird elf snack, lembas, whereas Diaz's Spanish is simply inserted without comment and assumes the reader has a familiarity.
The made-up words of sci-fi and fantasy are elements of world-building, trying to include the reader in a wholly different reality, whereas Diaz's Spanish felt - to me - exclusionary (that's a word?!!). I admire the authenticity, but it did alienate me. (less)
No idea how many times I've read this and I only admire it more each time. These are mandatory reading for anyone even remotely interested in how a sh...moreNo idea how many times I've read this and I only admire it more each time. These are mandatory reading for anyone even remotely interested in how a short story operates. Favorites: Uncle Wiggily, Teddy, and A Perfect Day for Bananafish. The rest are great, certainly, but these three have lingered with me for years and I consider them essentially flawless.(less)
Joyce Carol Oates came to a function in my home town when I was in high school, and I, being the nerd I was, went out and bought Foxfire and read it c...moreJoyce Carol Oates came to a function in my home town when I was in high school, and I, being the nerd I was, went out and bought Foxfire and read it cover-to-cover to familiarize myself with JCO. The auditorium was full of kids who only had questions about "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" which all their teachers had made them read beforehand. Long story short, JCO did not make a really good impression on Young Rachel. She was very brusque, very old (to me, but I was 15), and seemed pretty unimpressed by just about everything. I was, to put it mildly, pissed.
Since then, I hope I've gotten just a little more mature, and there are some writers who, yes, I quietly hate because my envy is so overwhelming (KAREN RUSSELL I'M LOOKING AT YOU). Hall and Joyce Carol Oates came to my graduate school, actually, and my friend and I skipped the event to get Mexican food. It was a great choice.
So! This book. I loved it. It's weird and creepy and full of unsettling stuff. The last story sealed it for me - versus Chuck Palahniuk's "Guts," "A Hole in the Head" is so much better at gross-out because it's understated. (I also have a maniacal fear of needles, so all the talk of face injections was incredibly repellent to me.) My reaction was visceral and I won't be forgetting these stories soon.
Clearly, the book was sneezed out by some publisher. Nothing about the book itself demonstrates any kind of care in its creation (I took a book design class last semester so now I get all hung up on stuff like this). The headings are inconsistent. The lines per page are uneven. The cover is so, so bad - it looks like a shitty straight-to-DVD horror movie, and I'm pretty sure they swiped the author photo from a Google Image Search. So I'm deducting a star for that. I know she's written appx 10000 books, but still. It's a shame. (less)
This book deserves five stars solely for what it is - an amazing collection of domestic noir, replete with prolific authors who I'd mostly never heard...moreThis book deserves five stars solely for what it is - an amazing collection of domestic noir, replete with prolific authors who I'd mostly never heard of. Some amazing standouts: Shirley Jackson (duh), Joyce Harrington's incredibly creepy "The Purple Shroud," Margaret Millar's "The People Across the Canyon" that could have been an episode of The Twilight Zone, Patricia Highsmith's "The Heroine" and Nedra Tyre's "A Nice Place to Stay." The rest of these didn't accomplish much for me and some felt stale solely from age. I also didn't care much for the introductions and found them distracting; the editor treats this more as a textbook than a collection, and while it is important and worth studying, I could have done without the paragraph analyses that closed every intro.
Overall, though, I am so glad this collection exists and look forward to reading more of these ladies, knowing I am in good company in the creepy-creep genre. (less)
This book contains what I consider the creepiest damn story I have ever read. No matter how many times I return to it, "The Wavering Knife" genuinely...moreThis book contains what I consider the creepiest damn story I have ever read. No matter how many times I return to it, "The Wavering Knife" genuinely spooks me. It is masterful, disturbing, and eerie; probably the best example of literary horror since "The Yellow Wallpaper." I also loved "Moran's Mexico" just for its glancing moments of real derangement. "One Over Twelve" makes the hallucination scene in Trainspotting look like a kids' movie. And hell if I can actually understand it, but "The Progenitor" is decidedly unsettling even if I don't have a clue what the fuck is going on.
I did love this book, but I've grown accustomed to the taste of Evenson's writing and this collection didn't rattle the earth for me the way Altmann's Tongue did. I feel like Evenson is on point when he's in first person, writing from these frigid, logical, and unhinged personas - a terrifying story told in the plainest way. The discrepancy is brilliant. The country-fied gravediggers, the lyrical somersaults, the men drinking beer and rambling about God - these are all a probably necessary reprieve from the more horrifying stories, but I found myself putting the book down.
Not as bowled over by this collection as I was by The Wavering Knife or Altmann's Tongue, but still full of great stuff. There's a handful of stories...moreNot as bowled over by this collection as I was by The Wavering Knife or Altmann's Tongue, but still full of great stuff. There's a handful of stories in here - "Girls in Tents" and the opening story - that deal with the psychological horror of very domestic situations, namely being a kid who has to act like an adult and be in charge. "Ninety Over Ninety" struck me as too insider-y and more than a little bitter, but I'm still thinking about it. (less)
Linguistically, Meloy is a straight-shooter. Her prose is clear, clean, sensible, and controlled. I admired her characters most of all - she is a mast...moreLinguistically, Meloy is a straight-shooter. Her prose is clear, clean, sensible, and controlled. I admired her characters most of all - she is a master of relationships, men and women and kids and fathers and daughters; the predicaments she invents are rife with drama and conflict without ever being melodramatic or flashy. This book is graceful and sharp, but, I admit, I like my stories with a little more mess. (less)
"Brownies" and "Our Lady of Peace" are both A+ stories, and "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" is one of those few off-the-charts, unforgettable, goddammit w...more"Brownies" and "Our Lady of Peace" are both A+ stories, and "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" is one of those few off-the-charts, unforgettable, goddammit why didn't I write that examples. The other 5 did very little for me. I also couldn't shake the suspicion that "Speaking in Tongues," about the church girl who runs away to Atlanta only to get caught up in a seedy ring of characters, was a story Packer had been chewing on for years. Again, this is absolute speculation, but it's such a weirdly-built and meandering narrative that it reminded me of some of my own stories that in my heart of hearts I feel are necessary and absolute, but never quite make themselves clear on the page. Overall, a strong collection, but I'm concerned how it's been 10 years and this is all we've seen from Packer. (less)
Incredibly mixed feelings about this collection. At some moments, the sentences ring painfully true--this is exactly what it's like to be directionles...moreIncredibly mixed feelings about this collection. At some moments, the sentences ring painfully true--this is exactly what it's like to be directionless in your 20s--but other moments I felt like I was reading the same story over and over again (hookers and Chinese take-out). "Heaven," the last story, which tackles a modern family history in paragraph snapshots, is stupendous. I feel like I'll need to revisit this in a few years, maybe after I've found some direction. (less)
Lean stories, not in that they're short but that there's isn't an ounce of excess information. Sometimes it works - the title story is a bizarre twist...moreLean stories, not in that they're short but that there's isn't an ounce of excess information. Sometimes it works - the title story is a bizarre twisting story of affairs, twins, and Miami that put me in mind of Mulholland Drive, and where the sparsity of detail was half the fun. Other times, the stories just read thin. I think when van den Berg lets loose - writing about a gang of child thieves in "Lessons" - she really hits it home. Textbook examples of solid short-stories. (less)
Some really stirring stuff here with just enough morbidity and bizarro to keep reading. At times Chaon reads too clean, nearly sentimental, but then a...moreSome really stirring stuff here with just enough morbidity and bizarro to keep reading. At times Chaon reads too clean, nearly sentimental, but then a family drowns in a car or a boy gets kidnapped. Good drama and strong sentences. (less)