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The Great Frustration

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  367 ratings  ·  43 reviews
Channeling Steven Millhauser by way of George Saunders, The Great Frustration is a sparkling debut, equal parts fable and wry satire. Seth Fried balances the dark—a town besieged, a yearly massacre, the harem of a pathological king—with moments of sweet optimism—researchers unexpectedly inspired by discovery, the triumph of a doomed monkey, the big implications found in a ...more
Paperback, 181 pages
Published May 1st 2011 by Soft Skull Press
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Average rating 3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  367 ratings  ·  43 reviews

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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Sep 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This collection exudes the nicely equalized balance of variance and unity that I crave from art, but maybe especially from short story collections. The book's gaze shifts and leaps from laboratory to picnic grounds, from Harems to Conquistadors to the animals inhabiting the Garden of Eden to Norse myth to recognizable contemporary landscapes, and so on.

Seth Fried's overall writerly skills are remarkably well-honed, especially for a debut. I would be easily convinced in a double-blind experiment
Oct 25, 2019 added it
*'Loeka Discovered', 'Life in the Harem' and some of the 'Animalcula': 4 stars. ...more
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was the best short-story collection I read last year. Wonderfully vivid writing, hysterically funny but filled with pathos as well. Characters that were deeply flawed, complex, and engaging. Each story offers a unique contribution to the collection, and the range of stories was amazing. If you like George Saunders, Aimee Bender, then you need to pick up this book. Fried ranks up there with the best. Can't wait until his next book. ...more
Heath Wilcock
Mar 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I think what I found so fascinating with this collection of short stories is that it was Seth Fried's debut collection. His language is that of an experienced writer who has been releasing novels for the past ten years. His stories are hilarious, frightening, and absurd. I especially loved his last story "Animacula: A Young Scientist's Guide to New Creatures." It was strange, very funny, and suprisingly real (seeing that he made up the entire world of tiny animal-like particles). I really enjoye ...more
Bill Hsu
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Loved the last piece about the tiny creatures Fried calls "animalcula". Hilarious and absurd, delivered in a cool, pseudo-analytic tone, more than a little like Calvino or Millhauser. My favorite stories here are more anchored in flesh (as opposed to Millhauser's fascination with boardgames and cartoons). The prose is clear and elegant. ...more
Dan Plonsey
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
4 stars for a handful of really great stories. Several written in first person plural. As others have noted, reminiscent of Millhauser in the way that they escalate, for being about kings and kingdoms, and for being meta: not about the experience so much as the experience of the experience. I was exhausted, though, by the time I began reading the last story. Maybe best to read one story at a time.
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: absurd, short-stories
Fantastic. I liked the title story best, but they are all perfectly evocative of the nature of frustration intrinsic to so many aspects of existence, while presenting it with playfulness and wry humor. What sticks with me most right now is the undeniably familiar sensations of the cat, jaws clicking, so full of desire and resentment toward that desire. Highly recommended.
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, short-stories
a couple of the stories were threes, but the last one was a straight up five, loved loved loved animalcula

clever, laughed out multiple times, but too ... i don't know. masculine maybe? for my taste. i could never quite escape the fact that this was written by a man, if that makes sense.
Mar 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Appreciate that this was interesting & well written but some of it made me squirm so I will read again another time. Loved his story Mendelssohn in Tin House.
Michael Freeman
Dec 13, 2021 rated it it was ok
It had it's moments, and the descriptions were great. But I didn't find an engaging narrative ...more
Neil Grayson
Apr 17, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
A wonderful and sharp collection of fables. I love the way Fried takes an idea out to its wobbliest frontiers where it starts to render strangely and invert on itself.
Dec 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
I don't usually enjoy short story collections that much, i.e. I get bored.
But for some bizarre reason, I couldn't stop reading.
This author's narrative is smooth and soothing.
(I made the mistake of trying to translate this smooth and long narrative to Japanese. Occupational hazard, I guess.)

But the story itself is not that fun. They all deal with individuals struggling with their inner thoughts and what they thought was "normal".
However, I ended up loving this one. Especially the last one which t
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
I first heard about Seth Fried when one of his tweets about Hurricane Irene went viral:

"If your apartment is hit by a dolphin, DO NOT GO OUT TO SEE IF THE DOLPHIN IS OKAY. That's how the hurricane tricks you into coming outside."

That was funny enough to earn him a new follower (me) on Twitter. So then I got to see whenever The Great Frustration got a new accolade, whenever another indie bookstore recommended it, and so on. And it also made sure I was in on the deal when his collection was free
Torea Frey
Jun 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Good stories, including several that involve our fine primate friends (always a topic of interest for me). Yes, if you start one story ("Those of Us in Plaid") with the sentence, "Our job was simple: get the monkey in the capsule," you won't have to do much more to earn my readership. I also particularly like "The Frenchman" and the final story in the collection, "Animalcula."

From "Animalcula," in which 14 new creatures are described to an audience presumed to be scientists:

"...the universe is a
Oct 13, 2011 marked it as did-not-finish
Too clever by half. The first two stories are both told in the first person plural, which is a bit much. It's all very allegorical, but with an ironic veneer that makes it seem very heavy handed.

The second story, "Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre" started out so funny that it's what drew me to the book. Every year something hideous happens and a bunch of people at the picnic die. But every year everyone goes back. But the details that elaborate on it--how everyone starts out irate but gradually o
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read, fiction
As the title suggests, Fried writes about people (and the occasional monkey) pressed up against the boundary of their existence, never quite breaking through. Fried often takes as his subject the first-person plural, inviting us into a “we” we didn’t know we belonged to; his mission here is empathy, and these stories offer a masterclass in it. The final piece, “Animalcula,” is a series of 15 ostensible textbook entries on microscopic creatures, from the eldrit, which drastically alters all of it ...more
H R Koelling
Jan 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Some great short stories, others that I didn't like at all. "The Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre" is the short story I always wanted to write. It's an amazing short story! The satirical wit makes it one of the best short stories I have ever read; a damning indictment of American culture and politics. I just wish I liked more of the stories in this collection. I almost couldn't finish the last story, "Animalcula..." I'm sure we'll hear more from this gifted writer. ...more
Mar 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
These are startling and original stories, mostly about scientests and their belief systems, but also including laments of a conquistodore and a Beowolf scribe. Hard to pick, but I think my favorite involved a team of low ranking scientests working on a project that will involve sending a lab monkey they have come to love, to his certain death. Charmed by the whole premise of this book, I will gladly read what he comes up with next.
Charles Cohen
Apr 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-lit
You remember that guy in your middle school, who would constantly make the same joke? "Hey, what's that?" "Huh?" "MADE YOU LOOK!"

These stories are like that, except the smack is to your brain, and you want it to keep happening.
Jan 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Seth Fried does so many good things in this excellent debut collection it's difficult to begin to think of them all. His scientific fabulism hearkens back to Italo Calvino's "Cosmicomics" and few story collections I've read could get away with the first person plural as cleanly as he does (though I'll admit that style wore on me after a while). I highly recommend this one. ...more
Marcheto Marcheto
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars in fact
A brilliant collection of stories that reminded me of Steven Millhauser and Italo Calvino. Original, funny, highly entertaining, with some gems like "Loeka discovered", "Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre", "The Scribe's Lament" and "Animalcula". Fried has been my best discovery so far this year.
Jun 20, 2011 rated it liked it
taking george saunders to pretty fucked up extremes. a bit repetitive, and (wait for it) frustrating in the way fried seems to take each story to the same place. but very funny, and enormously imaginative.
Karen Carlson
Wonderful; quirky stories with a point. Detailed comments (with spoilers) at A Just Recompense. ...more
Dec 05, 2011 rated it liked it
This collection was uneven for me. I found the title story, Loeka Discovered, and The Scribes' Lament to be stand-out stories, primarily for handling unique subject matter in a memorable voice. There is a lovely unraveling of the status quo in each of them. ...more
Dec 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
My rating is about as borderline as can be. What nudged it into four-star range was the last story, "Animalcula". It's a very clever, absurdist, science-y story that is one of the few to really stand out in this otherwise good-but-not-great collection. ...more
May 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A criminally under-read author.

The collection is entertaining without being facile, intelligent without pretension, touching without melodrama, humorous while avoiding low-hanging fruit, and unique without being contrived.

What more could you want in a short story collection?
Harrison Teich
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
i read this for a class. An english class called creative writing. Seth used creativity to make this book of short stories. Some of them were good while others were just meh. I would recommended the ones that were good.
Nayad Monroe
This is not a full review. I just want to note that although I keep seeing comments--including on its own cover--that this book is "funny" or "hilarious," I don't think I even smiled while reading it. I like to laugh, and I frequently do, but this book did not make it happen. ...more
Jonathan Hawpe
Apr 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fantastic collection! Reminded me of some of my favorite short story writers: Vonnegut, George Saunders, Stephen Millhauser, and Jim Shepard. Smart, funny, inventive stuff!
F. Rzicznek
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
One of the best things I've read this year. ...more
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Seth Fried is a recurring contributor to The New Yorker’s “Shouts and Murmurs” and NPR’s “Selected Shorts.” His writing has also appeared in Tin House, One Story, Electric Literature, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Kenyon Review, The Missouri Review, Vice, and many others. His short stories have been anthologized in the 2011 and 2013 Pushcart Prize Anthologies as well as The Better of McSweene ...more

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“The Project Elects assured us that dropping the monkey into the volcano was important. They scribbled impatiently on the blackboard in the demonstration room. They drew a picture of the monkey peeking out of the capsule’s small window and smiling. They drew themselves standing on the tarmac and smiling. They drew a picture of us having wild sex with each other in the locker room and smiling. Look, they said, everybody’s happy.
And if our own happiness wasn’t enough to make us put the monkey in the capsule, they reminded us that we were replaceable, that we were, in fact, desirable only in the sense that we were so totally capable of being replaced, that we were all a bunch of yo-yos, that we were lucky to know there even was a monkey.”
“It’s no surprise that small romances began to bubble up throughout the lab. At the time, it seemed to make sense. It wasn’t long before our working together in such close proximity, together with the general excitement of the task at hand, led to lingering glances over calorimeters, colleagues leaning in to share the dual eyepieces on comparison microscopes, the sudden, accidental brush of hands simultaneously attempting to adjust the needle valves of Bunsen burners. When we examined some of the pollen we found in Loeka’s colon, it turned out the cells within the pollen were still intact, which meant that Loeka’s death could be placed sometime during the spring. Spring!” 0 likes
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