Partway into this collection, Teri tweeted a link to this comment thread on a Hairpin advice post, prompting a brief discussion of Díaz and how autobiographical his work might be. Since I haven’t read much about him as a person before, I wasn’t aware that his character Yunior, who is the centerpiece of this collection of stories, is really quite similar to him, making much of his ﬁction pretty true-to-life. That awareness made some of the stories more uncomfortable to read than others, notably those that are primarily about Yunior’s womanizing tendencies. One could read these potentially misogynistic moments as highlighting the struggles of Latino masculinity, yet there’s a line between deconstructive exploration and stubborn gloriﬁcation that shifts...more
I always feel I should like George Saunders more than I do; when The New York Times emphatically declared this “the best book you’ll read this year,” I thought perhaps these would be the stories that would teach me to love him. The ﬂaw in this thinking being that I read several of them when they ran in The New Yorker. I plodded through “Escape from Spiderhead” both times I read it.
What I ﬁnd tough about Saunders is the hopelessness of his dystopian satire. I see the humor, I appreciate the spareness of his prose, but emotionally his stories just bum me out. There are too many characters trying so pointlessly to be better people — ”pointlessly” because in their...more
I read the ﬁrst two books in this collection not quite two years ago. Now maybe wasn’t the best time to revisit this, as I felt pretty distracted until the end when I was able to ﬁnd some focus again. But then reading one of Davis’s books is more of an eﬀort than you would expect, partially because her stories vary from the incredibly short to involved. The incredibly short ones seem like they would be the easiest, but sometimes the linguistic riﬃng takes some time to untangle. Even the involved stories don’t follow any kind of traditional narrative and don’t necessarily sweep you up in the usual way.
Two of my favorite longer stories from the last book...more
Summer, with all its distractions, is generally an opportune time for reading short ﬁction that you can digest in small segments. This collection seems like a particularly good ﬁt, as many of the stories have themes of travel. At some point I thought to myself that it was strange that two of them had a character with the same name; only after ﬁnishing and reading a few reviews did it come clear that this wasn’t a coincidence — I’d actually missed that the character recurred in three stories. Summer and its distractions?
The stories follow a pretty traditional short story structure: just enough info to know who you’re dealing with; a simple conﬂict; and a quiet revelation, but not necessarily a resolution. The...more
The most frequent comment I see about Jim Shepard’s writing is that he attacks such a wide variety of worlds, in terms of places and places in time. It seems to go against the “write what you know” commandment passed down to aspiring writers, except each story feels convincingly accurate; he is apparently able to research well and therefore know more than the average person. In this collection among the oﬀerings the characters include is a “black world” operative at Los Alamos, a soldier on Papua New Guinea during WWII, the creator of Godzilla, the French child serial killer Gilles de Rais, and a group of Polish climbers attempting a winter expedition in the Himalayas.
My favorite in the...more
I picked up All the King’s Horses as a break from this and found that a longer narrative really hit the spot. Afterward I decided to ﬁnish up the stories in the section I was reading here and come back to the rest of the collection later, only to discover somewhat disappointingly that there were just a handful until that next break. But I’m sticking to the plan.
Davis most notably writes a lot of short ﬁction, sometimes just a paragraph or even a sentence in length. Often her characters aren’t given names; sometimes the story will be from the perspective of a couple and the whole thing is written as “we” and “us,” and it’s not annoying. She doesn’t...more
It’s almost exactly four years since I read most of Link’s Stranger Things Happen, and I experienced similar hit-and-miss responses to these stories. Sometimes the concept of the story is more entertaining than the execution, and the writing is often too simplistic and almost juvenile, though I discovered after ﬁnishing the last story that this a YA book. I guess that’s why all the stories are focused on younger people!
There’s a story centered around a mysterious TV show that airs irregularly and is set in “The Free People’s World-Tree Library,” a library that’s an entire world of its own with forests and oceans; another involving a handbag that contains an entire village or a vicious dog, depending...more
I’ve known Teri for years via the zine world, and it’s exciting to see her ﬁrst book published. These stories are largely melancholy, lined with the poignancy of deaths and disappointments. They feel open-ended, most likely because the characters without fail need to reach a point of internal conclusion rather than exacting any kind of inﬂuence on the world around them.
The gorgeous art in this collection of stories would make this worth checking out on its own, but the stories are at times vaguely unsettling, examining the fantastically surreal edges of an otherwise banal world, while also remaining playful. In the end, it’s something kids would ﬁnd entertaining, while adults may more appreciate the darker elements.
When I was a kid, there was a big water buﬀalo living in the vacant lot at the end of our street, the one with the grass no one ever mowed. He slept most of the time, and ignored everybody who walked past, unless we happened to stop and ask him for advice. Then he would come up to us slowly, raise his left hoof,...more
After the semi-disappointment in Dance of the Happy Shades, I picked up this collection and worked my way through it over autumn in between other books. I’d probably read half of these seventeen favorites in their original collections, so reading this was a combination of ﬁnding and revisiting. I can now be sure that her earlier stories just don’t grab me as completely.
The re-reading of stories was sometimes the best part: the ﬁrst instantly nostalgic ones I’d read in “The Beggar Maid,” the devastating “Runaway,” plus I’d forgotten that “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” was the inspiration for the ﬁlm Away from Her — both are lovely and melancholy but there are deﬁnitely some more internal sections that were...more