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American Innovations

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  1,011 ratings  ·  150 reviews
A brilliant new collection of short stories from “the conspicuously talented” (Time) Rivka Galchen.

In one of the intensely imaginative stories in Rivka’s Galchen’s American Innovations, a young woman’s furniture walks out on her. In another, the narrator feels compelled to promise to deliver a takeout order that has incorrectly been phoned in to her. In a third, the petty
Hardcover, 175 pages
Published May 6th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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3.58  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,011 ratings  ·  150 reviews

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Jan 13, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
The likelihood that I will enjoy a writer who writes with a tangible "for some obscure reason" etched into every utterance is slim. What are we to do with all those connections in our lives that, you know, bind us all together as a people? Nothing. Avoid them. Write in short sentences like these. Characterize them as "all those things I so studiously knew nothing about," which one of Galchen's narrators actually states for the record.

I tend not to read books with sentences like "I tend not to a
Sep 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Before reading American Innovations I hadn't seen the cover blurb that states: The tales in this groundbreaking collection are secretly in conversation with canonical stories, reimagined from the perspective of female characters. I don't know if understanding that beforehand would have altered my reading experience -- I am, at any rate, unfamiliar with Borge's The Aleph and Gogol's The Nose -- so I can only evaluate what I found on the page, and it was a somewhat uneven experience. For the most ...more
Jul 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Galchen's stories are not satisfying in the way short stories are usually satisfying. These stories are not tidy, they twist in the middle, heading in a different direction and then flutter out at the end. But I found that I respected this way of story telling in that it felt more like real life. This is a funny conclusion considering the numerous non-realistic elements in the stories. Yet the stories remained true. I remained entertained and intrigued throughout the collection.

The one story th
Suad Shamma
Oct 02, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, 2017
DNF. I really struggled to get through the first 4 stories in this book. And then I gave up. I closed the book, with a good, clear conscience, and put it away.

This is the first book in a long, long, LONG time that I did not finish. It was disappointing, and I really struggled with the thought of putting it down without completing it first. Especially given that it's a collection of short stories, and that it could always change up in the next one, but I just couldn't wait to find out any longer
Galchen made all kinds of big splash with her first novel in 2008, Atmospheric Disturbances
So readers have been waiting impatiently for a new book. this is of short stories, and they are international, sciencey in the style of andrea barrett Servants of the Map: Stories , some surrealness , so love, but mostly none. Lots of dead fathers and ghosts. Quality writing and stories, like Deborah levy Black Vodka: Ten Stories, not ho-hum shorts, or at least, not so memorable stories in something like
Victoria Weinstein
Aug 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
You know what? I'm tired of this whole style. I don't know what to call it, even. Talented female writers whose characters I can't stand, who seem to be made of nothing but self-obsessive neurosis. I'll just go back and re-read Margaret Atwood's short stories or something. I can't believe so many reviews of the title story failed to see how Atwood-derivative it was.

I'm sure I'll read a few more stories before I return this to the library, but they don't hold together as a collection. It's that l
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: adult-fiction
I think I'm suffering from Gregory Maguire Syndrome with Rivka Galchen. I'm just not... I just don't... I can't seem to... The stories and the writing are strange and gorgeous, like odd colourful exciting flowers that you see at the garden centre and then you get them home and try to plant them, but your soil is all clay and the plants can't take root and wither and die. My brain is clay. BUT I did connect to "Wild Berry Blue" omg, so true.
Jun 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Many of my reviews here are off the cuff riffs that inform reviews that I write for other publications, namely The Floating Library, my books column for San Diego CityBeat. Sometimes the review I post here is a cut and paste job from a published review. This one is neither. I've written my review and turned it in and I'm writing today to tell you that I'm disappointed in it, and in myself.

I generally don't read other reviews of books I'm reading until I've finished writing the review. I think t
Ksenia Anske
May 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
This story collection is wonderfully witty and melancholy, or more melancholy than witty, filled with innuendoes that at times I couldn’t understand, being originally not from America, but sensed on some other level. On a universal level. On a level of connection with words and images that stayed with me like bright flashes of every day strangeness. Simple strangeness of existence. Things we do to fill our lives, to think we know where we’re going, when in fact we have no clue.

There are two lev
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm glad I've gotten to a place where I can support other Rivkas in their creative endeavors. How sad it would have been if my exceedingly silly ego prevented me from reading this collection. It was so good. Chekhovian in some ways. And reading it in public felt like this wonderful inside joke with myself. Rivka Galchan, I wonder what your middle name is.
Elaine Ruth Boe
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dissertation
I've been on a short story collection kick given the focus of my dissertation. While these stories are not as heavily centered in speculative fiction as my dissertation, many still contain an element of the uncanny, the inexplicable that only women can understand. I can't help but think about Gloria Anzaldúa's idea of la facultad, the special knowledge women can acquire in their liminal social positions.

The characters in these stories are unlikable, honest. They are all rather blunt in their sp
Paul Dembina
I'm not quite sure what to make of this collection of short stories. Whilst I was reading each one I enjoyed the slightly off-centre nature of the main character but was left somehow unsatisfied at the conclusion.

Each story's protagonist is somehow adrift in their life and I guess that's reflected in the vagueness of the story.

More like a 3.5
Simon Ross
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A rather odd collection of stories, many of which fail to arrive in the way I expected, ending rather surprisingly. Her style kept me reading, she writes beautifully and in an original voice. I would recommend taking them one at a time, interspersed with other reading.
These stories are weird. In a good way--but weird nonetheless. Apparently a lot of them are influenced by very popular, classic short stories, such as Gogol's "The Nose" (for more information on this, see the NY Times Review here: )
Galchen makes each story her own, however, and every single one of them has a female protagonist. I found Galchen's narrative voice easy to connect to--almost soothing and familiar. Unfortunately I did not feel the same way abo
Syar S Alia
Dec 11, 2014 rated it liked it
In a way, the meandering endings of some of these stories were a relief - a gradual slackening of something taut and tense as opposed to an abrupt snap. It made me pay attention to the smaller stories contained within the larger one without taking away from the suspense of each story, it made me look for hints and clues and I didn't much mind that they were never really solved (except for in the case of "Dean of the Arts" where I really did want to find out more about Manuel Macheko). My favouri ...more
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
standard rivka galchen, which is to say: brilliant, funny, off-kilter, a little lost. a lot of the book flirts with themes explored in atmospheric disturbances, the author's novel debut: identity conflation, directionless, parents, otherness and anxiety, hilarious and completely literary wordplay. a lot of folks seem taken with "wild berry blue," which i might call the least galchenesque and most straightforward story of the lot. my personal favorite is probably "sticker shock," a laugh-out-loud ...more
Heid Zhng
Jul 26, 2014 rated it did not like it
The thing that kept me away from short story collections (and suspicious of writers famous for them) all these years is that frustrating sense of hope this goddamn form warrants. If a novel is bad, you can tell by at most 50 pages in and can leave it there in good, clear conscience. In a collection, however, even if the first couple of stories are absolutely off, you keep thinking, "Maybe the next one will get better? I mean, they got bundled together into a book for a reason, right?" Yes, and t ...more
Apr 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Why am I giving this three stars? I'm upset that I'm giving it three stars. For the first half of the collection, I thought I'd definitely be giving it 4 or 5 stars, but somewhere in the second half I fell off the AMERICAN INNOVATIONS wagon. It isn't that I'm not into magical realism/furniture leaving of its own accord, etc. I'm entirely impressed by Rivka Galchen's mind and the real oddity of her stories. But the last few stories just fell flat for me. I hope that, whenever I read this collecti ...more
Drew McCutchen
Feb 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
I loved this collection of short stories. Galchen's writing feels wholly fresh and original and gives you an intimacy to the thoughts of the narrator, one that feels natural and familiar to your own. It seemed that most of the stories utilized an unreliable narrator, or at least one who internalized and argued out the lies they told themselves--the way we lie to ourselves everyday, methodically or flippantly, apologizing vaguely or absentmindedly. At times the stories are extremely funny and at ...more
Uwe Hook
Aug 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Apparently these stories develop from those written by widely-known writers. Don't let that turn you off. There is a deep humanity to Galchen's work, which I didn't find in the originals that I recognised. The loneliness she finds all around her reminds me of what found in some of Lucinda Williams songs. Galchen uses few artifices, no epiphanies and the humour has to be searched for. Nevertheless she writes convincingly from the heart, regardless of the imitations she undertakes.
Nov 04, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quirky and intelligent collection of heartbreaking and funny short stories, often one and the same. This is literary fiction with recognizable dialogue and no fear of genre fiction staples like time travel and the supernatural. None of us are perfect and maybe everyone has something to say and this book takes a close look at all of that.
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Freakin brilliant. Really sticks with me. I can look at the title of the story and remember everything. I mean, its gotten in there, (there meaning my brain), and rearranged it. Style and also other stuff. Thank you!
Margaret Adams
Ten original, often hilarious stories that are so full of emotional deflection it's like the literary equivalent of negative space.
Nov 27, 2014 added it
Shelves: borrowed, halfred
Almost too much—ask the movement at this moment and they'll murmur.
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018
I am inspired by Rivka Galchen’s worlds of drowsily cerebral chatter as a mode of narration, thought and living.
Stephanie Innes
Dec 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Great stories - sometimes felt like I was reading an American Margaret Atwood. Wry & clever - highly recommend.
Alicia Brooks
Jun 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
Pretentious, overwrought and dull. There are dozens of better story collections out there. Skip this one.
Catherine Lockwood
Jul 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Didn't really enjoy it took me forever to read as a result, overrated.
Apr 09, 2019 rated it liked it
This was a read. I hate to admit that it mostly left me cold, not from being bad, but more from just sort of existing, of the sort where one wonders where exactly it's supposed to be. Perhaps this is best summed up in Wild Berry Blue, a story in which a child, small enough to need to stand on tiptoes at the mcdonalds counter to push a dollar bill along it, is yet old enough to have a book report on "The Yellow Wallpaper," despite by all other data being a literal child of maybe 10, tops. It's od ...more
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I read this collection too slowly over too long a span of time (circa a couple of weeks on my lunch breaks at work) and I think that worked against me getting a cohesive feel of the collection. That, and admittedly, I'm not too familiar with the stories that Galchen used as her inspiration.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised that many of the surrealist-tint stories weren't too inaccessible. There were a couple that used annoying narrative tricks, like clinical language in "Sticker Shock" (though t
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Rivka Galchen (born 1976) is a Canadian-American writer and physician. Her first novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, was published in 2008. She currently is an adjunct professor in the writing division of Columbia University's School of Art. In 2010, she was chosen as one of the 20 best writers under 40 by The New Yorker.
“You'll never get over Ilan. And that will one day horrify you. But soon enough you'll settle on a replacement object for all that love of yours, which does you about as much good as a life jacket in a train wreck.” 2 likes
“My books rustled by like a military of ducks. My mother had never liked my books. She'd said they kept me from real life, by which I think she meant men, or money, or both. Always accusing things of precisely the crimes they hadn't committed.
(From the short story: Once an Empire)”
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