Andrew's Reviews > The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories

The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories by Steve Almond
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's review
Mar 12, 08

it was ok
Read in June, 2005

Should Steve Almond bother you? Should you find it condescending that he’s got a reading comprehension test on his website? Should you get the icks from Almond’s writing about teaching the sexy, sexed-up female students in a writing workshop very much resembling his own at Boston College? Should you down some ipecac because his most assured writing in The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories is in a story called “The Idea of Michael Jackson’s Dick”?

Ugh, yes. Steve, you have freaked us out.

But what’s especially bothersome is the writing in B.B. Chow is technically good. It’s measured. It’s pointed. It’s—well, it’s like this passage from a story about a woman with a crush on a computer repairman, “Wired for Life”:

At the word warranty, Charlie shied away. His eyes welled into little pools of sullenness.

October, he said.

Janie nudged her boobs against the glass counter. The receipt says 90 days.

Charlie smiled miserably. He did not look at Janie, nor especially at her boobs, but carried the adapter with its cord dragging behind and set it down on his worktable and disappeared into the back of the shop. He returned with his spool of solder and hunkered down before his sadder [sic] gun while Janie pretended not to notice. There was a delicious, excruciating aspect to the tableau.

I didn’t know pro writers were allowed to use the word boobs! It’s fantastic! We finally have a word for those megastructures on the cover of Maxim, Stuff, and FHM, for those neat balloons of fat (to be generous) that are the precursor of one’s being punched by one’s girlfriend! I had had to use the cocophonous term breasts. Or bosoms. Or nothing at all. Boobs! Neat! Thanks, Steve; quoting your best writing in your new collection gives me permission to talk about boobs without fear of retribution. You’ve also liberated bestiality (in “Appropriate Sex”), President-on-abolitionist action (in “Lincoln, Arisen”), and the idea of Michael Jackson’s dick (in “The Idea of Michael Jackson’s Dick”) as fruitful writing topics. They’re like new veins of gold to all writers. Let the rush begin.

Ok. Yeah. The serious part.

We’re talking medium-abuse here. A book is one medium, like television, graffiti, or a girlfriend’s left hook (don’t you dare say it can’t carry a message). Books are expensive. They demand expensive writing to justify the cost of paying the sponsoring editor, the acquisitions editor, the editorial assistant, the cover designer, the rights assistant, the manufacturer, the packager, the copyeditor, the UPS guy, the Barnes and Noble salesperson, and eventually the author, instead of, say, using that money and energy to, say, feed people. With the exception of “I Am as I Am” and “Larsen’s Novel,” a fine piece about the obligations between grown men, the stories in The Evil B.B. Chow are cheap. They are arrived at cheaply and leave the reader feeling cheaper. But, of course, saying this book would be better placed in a cheap medium like the Internet is like saying Hollywood shouldn’t have remade The In-Laws: Hollywood shouldn’t have, but hey, the money’s there, and they have mouths to feed too. It’s a frustrating thing, this—we know Almond can write well. His culinary piece in the current issue of Tin House so captured the care and humor in cooking a favorite meal for friends that I wondered if all that time I spent watching “Great Chefs” in college would have been better spent reading cooking magazines.

The Evil B.B. Chow is entertaining in its cheap way (boobs!). But Almond cribs simultaneously from that of Esquire and Toby Wolff—two types of writing many readers enjoy but which should never end up on the same page. He should pick one or the other at one time, and so should you.
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