Tung's Reviews > Brief Encounters with Che Guevara: Stories
Brief Encounters with Che Guevara: Stories
by Ben Fountain
by Ben Fountain
The PEN/Hemingway winner from 2006 (which goes to the best debut author according to the PEN Foundation) is a collection of eight short stories that share a consistent theme: self-involved Americans who find themselves embroiled in much larger geopolitical situations (for example, a grad student captured by narcoguerillas in Colombia, a USAID worker involved in the blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone, a golf pro in Myanmar who is pulled into international oil-drilling politics). Fountain does a masterful job of illustrating the self-centered and small-minded thinking of people trapped in situations they can’t fully comprehend. For instance, there’s a great scene where the grad student in Colombia who is captured by narcoguerillas complains that if they don’t release him, he’ll lose his teaching assistant post at Duke. But Fountain doesn’t merely present these contrasts and then walk away. No, he moves the story along via the characters’ evolution of thought. The prose is tight and clear, and the stories are all of similar quality (although I disliked the last story, “Fantasy for Eleven Fingers”). One reviewer noted that “Fountain prowls similar turf to that of . . . Gary Shteyngart.” No, Shteyngart’s books are uniformly awful; Fountain is what Shteyngart tried unsuccessfully to be: a writer whose book describes the effect of world politics on self-involved individuals. A highly recommended read.
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