Epigraphs rarely feel undeniably necessary to me; they are interesting, but I assume they mean more to the author than the reader in most cases. Casey Plett’s epigraph for her debut collection of short stories (an excerpt from Michelle Tea’s The Chelsea Whistle) so perfectly sets the tone for the book and provides the title that I really can’t imagine the book without it:
I loved that dream of a girl, the Beautiful Girl, calm and wild as water. I loved her like I loved the Psychic Girl, another paperback myth, because she was a safe girl to love, a fantasy that I could own. When I grew up and began to meet so many diﬀerent real girls. I met beautiful...more
Beautifully eerie stories set across Argentina pairing the darkness of modern life, with its extreme poverty, violence, and crime, to the murkiness of otherworldly terrors. It’s been almost two months since I read this collection, and it has stuck with me in a way that I know I will want to read this again. Strangely the only story that didn’t grab me is the eponymous “Things We Lost in the Fire,” in which women self-immolate to protect themselves from domestic violence. But having loved the rest of the book, maybe I read it in an oﬀ moment and will see it diﬀerently on a re-read.
This is the ﬁrst book of Enríquez’s to be translated to English, and I hope there...more
Passable, Not Presentable...more
She remembered the time before she had gotten sick. When it was a challenge to dress, how good it felt to look just right and be certain of one’s appearance. Then came losing her looks in the hospital, and the ghastly diﬀerence it made in the way she was received; the way people turned away from her after one glance in the street. And the slow climb back, trying to disguise the stiﬀness in her gait, and the drooling moronic look on her face that came from the medication. Perhaps this was why the mentally disabled always seemed so bland-looking as a group: they had to strive to look orginary, the “pass.” That little bit of
Quirky stories where houses rarely seem safe; the shorter ones tend to have better premises than delivery, but the longer ones beneﬁt from the increased development. It felt to me that I enjoyed each story more than the last one, which left an overall positive feeling, though I started out feeling underwhelmed. The ﬁnale, “Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph,” was my favorite: a woman struggling to adjust from a breakup becomes caretaker at a convent and uncovers secrets of the nuns she lives with. I got a little distracted by tomato growing details that didn’t seem accurate, unless this story takes place somewhere tropical. (Tomato plants are generally grown as annuals where winters are cold, and March would...more
Is it really possible that I didn’t read any short story collections in 2015? This is a great one to rekindle an appreciation of short ﬁction, solid tales with a sense of humanity and a droll ﬂavor. The nine stories in this collection are united in diﬀerent senses of tragedy: there are both sudden and prolonged deaths, severe injuries, missing people, abandoned homes, and, on the lighter side, artistic betrayal. In the ﬁrst story “Something Amazing,” two brothers move into a neighborhood haunted by a six-year-old girl who died of lymphoma. The story mostly follows the younger brother who knocks on the door of the ghost girl’s mother, hoping to have a wish granted, and they have a curious interaction...more
I’ve read so many of Alice Munro’s stories, some of which were pre-booklog and some that I didn’t bother to write up at the time. This collection feels like a particularly strong batch of stories, if a bit more vicious overall, compared to other collections — so much death and injury!
The highlight is deﬁnitely the story that won the title, “Too Much Happiness,” which is about the Russian mathematician Sophia Kovalevsky. Munro explains in the acknowledgments that she discovered Sophia while researching something else and then commenced reading everything she could ﬁnd about her — in particular she notes that Little Sparrow “enthralled [her] beyond all others.”
The story recounts the last days of Sophia’s life, with a few earlier recollections. I...more
I think what I love about Lydia Davis is how she ﬁnds signiﬁcance and narrative in the banalities of the every day. I know most people consider recounting dreams to be one of the most socially unacceptable things you can do, perhaps just below subway grooming, but rarely do I dislike a dream story. Whether or not you try to ﬁnd the subconscious logic in it, the underlying humor of dream narratives are endlessly entertaining. Hence it follows that my favorite parts in this collection are the dream stories, some of which are hers and some those of family and friends.
We are about to buy a new piano. Our old upright has a crack all the way
I’ve been under this misguided impression that I’ve read a few things by Lorrie Moore when actually I have read just one novel, a long time ago, during such a hectic period that even my notes conjure up very little to remember it now. While these stories circle around themes of disappointment and regret, there’s still a wry humor and playfulness with language. I like how David Gates put it in his New York Times review:
Her characters banter and wisecrack their way through their largely mirthless lives in screwball-comedy style but for them it’s a compulsive tic whose aim is sometimes self-protection (utterance that warns others oﬀ and forms a protective shell) and sometimes just to ﬁll...more
I heard Karen Russell read from part of the story “Reeling for the Empire” at a Fiction Addiction reading last year, and I didn’t feel too inclined to read the whole story afterward. But I found my way to this collection regardless of that insuﬃciency of interest and will admit that I appreciated that story more hearing it in my own head. Russell is at her best for me when she’s creepy and sinister, and I get a bit less intrigued when her quirky humor is dominating. Though I have noticed lately that quirky doesn’t appeal to me as much as it used to.
Russell’s language is occasionally captivating, though it doesn’t always make sense in context. The last...more
After reading Against Interpretation, these stories are as cerebral and absent of symbolic content as I expected. Sontag plays with form rather than creating complex plots laden with meanings, and there isn’t an extensive amount of descriptive detail. Nearly all the stories are written from some kind of ﬁrst person perspective, though not in the traditional narrative sense in which it enables a feeling that the reader is somehow inside that character’s mind, privy to any passing thought. In “Old Complaints Revisited,” the narrator admits to purposefully obfuscating their identity:
But I don’t want to go into too much detail. I’m afraid of your losing the sense of my problem as a general one.
That’s why I have made a...more