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Emperor of the Air

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,638 ratings  ·  118 reviews
EMPEROR OF THE AIR "explores tricky family relationships and tender moments of self-discovery with a voice of compassion rarely found in contemporary short fiction" (San Francisco Chronicle). Whether his characters are struggling to save trees in their yards, their marriages, or themselves, Cannin renders their moments of revelation with rich observation, energy, humor, an ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published September 15th 1999 by Mariner Books (first published 1988)
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I'm not sure why I didn't like these stories more.

Technically, they are perfect, well written little hunks of fiction. But, I never really believed any of them. The author used the same voice to narrate each tale, whether the character was a sickly old man on a mission to save a dying tree or a teenager falsely pledging undying love. Every story struck me as having been written by a well educated young man pretending to be something he's not. There was a hesitancy about them and they failed to
Ethan Canin is the author of The Palace Thief, which was one of my favorite books that I read in 2013. The Palace Thief is a collection of four novellas - each written in a different voice, with the eponymous story being my favorite. I bought that book purely on the spur on the moment, and it has been one of my favorite spontaneous purchases ever since.

Emperor of the Air is Canin's debut collection, featuring nine much shorter stories which he wrote during his time as a student at the Harvard Me
Jul 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010
There is a, uh, poignant vignette in "The Year of Getting to Know Us" wherein the narrator - a high school English teacher -catches his wife (herself a writer, a journalist) canoodling with a younger man at Denny's. Narrator sits in his booth, with little emotional reaction, sizing up the rival's hands (they are broad); before paying for his coffee and taking his leave he scrawls on a napkin: You are a forty-year-old man with no children and your wife is having an affair.

Which perfectly describ
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Alan by: Simon Smith
Shelves: short-stories
probably 4-and-a-bit stars because there are stories that seem almost mirror images of each other, but they are still good, and I don't want to spoil my so-far 5 star March (following Alan Warner's Dead Man's Pedal and Alice Munro's Dear Life). And there are three or four stand out stories of gentle revelation or non-revelation in the lives of Californian middle class couples or old men or boys becoming men. The first one, the title story (which R has pointed out could be about US/USSR relations ...more
Faiza Sattar
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, ylto-2018-read
★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book
Emperor of the Air 
• Age, it seems, has left my wife alone
• The elm was dying. Vera was gone, and I lay in bed thinking of the insects, of their miniature jaws carrying away heartwood
• I didn’t think I was a sentimental man, and I don’t weep at plays or movies, but certain moments have always been peculiarly moving for me, and the mention of a century was one

The Year of Getting to Know Us 
• I hadn’t wanted to see the counselor. An
Mar 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Great writing but the stories felt small. Or maybe it is me who is small.
Jun 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
Variety among short stories seems difficult to come by in anthologies like this one, which puzzles me, since I assumed part of the reason you'd write a short story is that you don't have a whole novel's worth to say about a subject. I like Jhumpa Lahiri as much as the next person, but Unaccustomed Earth felt redundant to me, and so does Emperor of the Air. Maybe I just shouldn't read more than one story per sitting? Maybe collections of short stories are supposed to be linked by a central theme ...more
Simon Smith
Jul 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Iowa Fans
One of the best short story collections I've ever read, and I've read MANY. Tremendous craftsman. Excellent writing. Canin does an amazing job depicting and portraying the hardships, tragedies and heartbreaks associated with middle class manhood/boyhood. Yes, I know white middle class life gets made fun of because it isn't that difficult compared to other cultures/races/societies and I agree (I get it) BUT the life and identity of a white boy growing up in a world where they are expected to domi ...more
Sep 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for:
Recommended to Morgan by: reading reviews
Ethan Canin is a surprising, magical short story writer.
It is 13 years later and still vivid in my mind is the old lady living alone in a city apartment on her birthday--her 80th? Suddenly a bird flies into her window. In the encounter, she tells the bird,
"My husband knew President Roosevelt."

I love this author!
Jul 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: short story fans
This enjoyable and highly readable collection of short stories was recommended to me by a veteran educator. Canin's stories have the readability of Raymond Carver and the profundity of F.S. Fitzgerald. ...more
Sep 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I read this many years ago, but it remains one of my favorite short story collections.
Laura Alice Watt
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
beautiful, lonesome, well-crafted stories - makes me think of being on a dimly-lit porch late in the evening. (7/97)
Arnie Kahn
Mar 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really 4.5. This first collection of stories is a fine. The title story, of a man who wants to save his huge, dying elm tree from the saw of his neighbor is a favorite, as is "Pitch Memory," about a mother who steals. ...more
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
These stories were published in 1988, when I first read them. I remembered loving them, particularly the title story, which was a tender story of an elderly man, dealing with an serious heart problem, whose wife is vibrant woman nearly his age, who travels, swims, caves. The premise of the story is that their neighbor wants them to cut down their elm tree which is infested with insects, but is gorgeous and over two hundred years old. This man hears his neighbor explaining the constellations to h ...more
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read a friend’s copy of this a long time ago—back in the previous century—and it stuck with me enough that when I started looking for more authors to read, I remembered Ethan Canin and picked up Carry Me Across the Water the next time I saw it, which made me decide, in turn, to pick up this collection and re-read it.

It’s well worth re-reading. These are all about people struggling to understand how and why their world is changing. Or has changed and is in the process of changing again. They’re
Jeff Hobbs
Feb 20, 2019 marked it as to-read
Shelves: quick-read
Read so far:

*Emperor of the Air--
The Year of Getting to Know Us--3
Where We Are Now--3
We Are Nighttime Travelers--
Pitch Memory--
American Beauty--
The Carnival Dog--
The Buyer of Diamonds--
*Star Food--
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, well written and thought provoking. One of my favorites of the year so far.
Another book I found on the shelves at Hostel Detroit. Solid collection of stories from Canin.

And a terrific hostel with a great staff.
eve c
May 20, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2021-reads
I’m sorry, I really hate giving books bad reviews but I just hated this. The worst part was that the writing is lovely in some places (hence the two stars), but just so dull. I had real trouble distinguishing the voices of each story because they just sound like the same person, and no matter the setting or the subject matter, they all blended into one in a kind of American male existentialism soup. I don’t know, maybe I’m just thoroughly not the target audience, but this book genuinely depresse ...more
Courtney Dantzler
Sep 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really really like Canin’s writing style!!! This short story collection has a few duds, but it also has some entries I absolutely love. My favorite story is the last one, Star Food, so I think it ended on a good note. :) There are some really intriguing one-liners scattered throughout the book that really made me think… about death, loneliness, family… i laid on the floor for about an hour just thinking about my feelings… I want to come back to some of these stories later!
Tony Lam
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Evocative collection of short stories mostly taking place in Southern California. Stories remind me of Updikesian suburban tales of broken upper-middle-class human beings. The voices are a bit similar. Of course, one can also say the same thing to reading Raymond Carver’s or Richard Ford’s short works. My favorite is the titled story, Emperor of the Air. I also love the tone of The Year of Getting to Know Us. All in all, it’s a great collection of compassionate short stories.
Nov 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Picked it up years ago because of the Walker Percy blurb on the back cover.

About halfway through and most of the stories are about women subtly (and for the most part unintentionally) weaving a life around a man that makes the man miserable and leaving them feeling trapped.

The deep issues for both characters kind of bound off each other like icebergs.
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
This collection of short stories was written before The Palace Thief, and the characters are younger, and to me less interesting, though I did love the first story about a neighbor dispute over a tree. Canin writes with great clarity and poignancy.
Harry Burnside
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
An enjoyable book of vignettes of American family life. Happiness, sadness, ambition, dropping out.
Many different thought provoking areas of family life.
Jul 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked about 4 of the 9 short stories in this book. The rest were ok but I don't see this as a re-read. 3 stars! ...more
Brad Erickson
May 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Not as good as The Palace Thief.
Sharon Mccarthy
Aug 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Breathtakingly beautiful, airy stories about what matters.
Jessie Young
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
What I love about these stories is that you feel like you get to know each character in so few words. How does Ethan Canin do it? Each character is so imperfectly real that I have a hard time believing Canin hasn't been each person himself in order to know what it is like.

I wish I could describe why I liked this collection of stories more clearly, but you're just going to have to trust me on this one. It's a winner.

Favorite bits:

"This is a love story. However, its roots are tangled and involve a
Mar 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Twain and Michael Chabon.
Shelves: favourites
I read "Carry Me Across the Water" last summer and thoroughly enjoyed it; so, I decided to give "Emperor of the Air" a try. Not bad. In fact, I would go so far as to say great. Canin's true strength is in his use of language. You'd be hard-pressed to find a misplaced word in the entire collection. He is a simple poet of domestic fiction. The only problem is that some stories soar and others merely have the language going for them. The title story made me cry upon reading it; however, it is follo ...more
Feb 26, 2008 rated it liked it
There are bands I like who basically play one song but... it is a good one (the Ramones, Motorhead, and Ministry all come to mind). I can pretty much put on any of their albums and enjoy it. Similarly , there are authors who have one basic story and write it overand over, but do it really well and I enjoy each one (Kurt Vonnegut & R.E. Howard, as different form each other as is possible in all other respects, come to mind). This collection of stories is like that -- one story (in this case, the ...more
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Highly regarded as both a novelist and a short story writer, Ethan Canin has ranged in his career from the "breathtaking" short stories of Emperor of the Air to the "stunning" novellas of The Palace Thief, from the "wise and beautiful" short novel Carry Me Across the Water to the "epic" America America. His short stories, which have been the basis for four Hollywood movies, have appeared in a wide ...more

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