Reviews in 200 Words

Archive for the ‘Story Collections’ Category

Girls in Trouble by Douglas Light

In Fiction, Short Stories, Story Collections on October 26, 2011 at 3:50 am

These characters are hungry. They’re creepy and haunting, like a Hitchcock film at times–so many angles–perfectly paced. It’s not horror, though, it’s reality. We’re all constantly in between where we came from and where we’re going. This is full of complication and uncertainty. It’s all the things that come with being a girl; even the superficial things like pantyhose and fashion magazines. But it’s also about being a person–a man or a woman–entering into and exiting out of relationships with other people. Sometimes we want to avoid making predictions because we know that the future certainly brings failure, even doom. But we can never stop making predictions: they keep us alive; they keep us from being shocked (sometimes). Survival mechanisms. There’s a decent amount of food in these stories: eating and drinking–Pop Tarts, cheeseburgers, a vegan cookie, black tea, crabs, butter, wine, Coke, gin and tonic–it’s what we do in between, on the road, when we have time to refuel and recover. It’s what we do through everything else and no matter what: routine. It’s what we do when we’re with someone and when we’re alone. These stories are the cycle of hunger.

-Micah Ling

Douglas Light’s work


Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

In Fiction, Story Collections on September 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Punch, jab, hook, beat–what you do with your fists, or how you describe Frank Bill’s stories, Crimes in Southern Indiana. His sentences are fists, too. Concussive, so much so that the subjects have jarred loose in many of them to leave you stunned. Frank Bill’s stories are violent–meth, guns, dead-beats, feuds, crooked sheriffs, pot, fuck-ups–but the violence isn’t gratuitous, only just. Even if almost all the characters end up dead in a story, there is empathy and redemption. He dedicates the book to his grandparents for teaching him the old ways and thanks his parents for telling him stories. His stories are as old as Indiana and her people, set by the old state capital in Corydon, creating a place in the present world out of our past. If those hills and bottomlands and steep-banked creeks that all tumble into the Ohio River could talk and grunt through their broken teeth, they would tell these stories. Frank Bill has heard them, like the hills inhaled him deep all the way to bedrock, like the water soaked through skin to brain and bone. Frank Bill’s stories resonate and crack.

-Kevin McKelvey

Naked Summer by Andrew Scott

In Fiction, Short Stories, Story Collections on July 1, 2011 at 12:37 pm

There is something about summer that remains nostalgic for most people: somehow it seems like the important lessons and experiences–even mistakes–were made during those months. Not all of these stories take place during the summer–some do–but they’re all nostalgic: stories you wouldn’t mind coming back to, each year. It’s too easy to say that these characters seem real–that’s every writer’s job–they do seem real, but there’s more to it than that; they also seem tangible. Like maybe you should check the acknowledgments for people you know–that weird neighbor, the quiet kid from high school. And yourself. People grow up in these stories. Storms come, secrets are kept, relationships begin and end, big decisions are made. But little things happen, too. You realize that it’s actually the little things that shape life: a flippant dare, bad plumbing in an apartment, haircuts, lawn boys: every drastic thing that has ever happened can be traced back to something seemingly insignificant. A wink. That’s about as long as anyone needs to know what they believe in–what they’ll do to protect or neglect their lives. Let’s return to the summer–let’s go there uninhibited.

-Micah Ling

McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, Edited by Michael Chabon

In Short Stories on September 9, 2010 at 10:36 pm

This is more like a series of short films, but 1950’s-style. Going-to-the-theater-style. Picture-show-style. Buying popcorn, sitting on the cushy seats, sipping Coke from a large straw, leaning back, knowing you’re in for a treat–a whole afternoon of treats. Total indulgence. A VCR that shows the future, a sharpened plate that takes a man’s head off at a nude dinner, a drug that helps to remember, or forget, a bank-robber, bike messengers, and Nazis. This is a coming together of the masters: the ones who craft stories so well that they can get away with anything, even flesh-eating-zombies. These authors are playing, and it’s like watching the dream-team: Jordan, Pippen, Bird, Ewing, all of them. Most of these stories are thrilling, yes, but also haunting and creepy, if not horrible. Tests of humanity; an emphasis on the ever common urge to be bad, the ease of turning evil. We’re all addicts of something because we all need control. This collection makes the lessons and tests of life and memory as chilling as any tale could be. This collection proves what a story can do: disturb you because it is you. 

-Micah Ling

The One-Room Schoolhouse (1993) by Jim Heynen

In Story Collections, Throwback Thursday (Short stories) on July 8, 2010 at 2:03 pm

There’s something about these boys that you can’t not crave; several things, really. A simple, wholesome life in a natural Mecca. Safety, freedom, immaturity, open space. And tiny threats, just on the edge of things. These boys don’t need names–we know them all by age and size. And the rest of the town’s people by trade or habit. There’s something entirely timeless about these short stories–you want to believe this place exists, even now. The moments in these stories–which rarely extend longer than a page or two–echo in the mind for their simplicity and the enormity of what they hold. They dance between prose poems and fables. These boys observe and learn–they’re rarely taught. They watch and mimic and judge. Boys and chickens and bulls and grubs. One summer day the boy walked out into the pasture to be alone. The land was flat, but he knew a place where maybe many years ago someone had taken out a big rock, and now there was a little dent in the grass, big enough to lie down in and not be seen. Seasons are distinct and full of smells. The changing and aging of young boys on a farm seems like the very essence of life–the very thing that makes grass grow.

-Micah Ling

Throwback Thursday = Once a month we’ll feature a not-so-new book that you may have missed, and should read.

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black

In Short Stories on April 14, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Black reminds us just what a short story can do. If you write short stories, this collection might make you weep: it’s that tight. If you don’t write short stories, this collection might make you weep: it’s that tight. There are moments in these stories that halt you in your tracks, that scream until breath is gone and all you can think is, damn, nailed it. These stories make you uncomfortable, in a good way. These are affairs and illnesses and lies that seem real because they are real: this is how people live; this is how people act. We need other people–sometimes more than we’re willing to admit. It’s a hard thing to confess: to say, “I need you.” Need is sometimes stronger, and more complicated than love. Certainly more dangerous. These stories, like life, are full of changes–wanted and unwanted.  Leaving is sad; even just the illusion of leaving is sad. In some ways, every choice these characters make represents a loss of some kind–the leaving of something known for something unknown. But not all of this is sad–Black redefines loss as something that’s necessary, even freeing, and that to deny loss is to deny the opportunity to really live.

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Many thanks to Andrew Scott: Andrew’s Book Club, for recommending this collection.

Wild Child by TC Boyle

In Short Stories on January 27, 2010 at 2:52 am

There’s no arguing with TC Boyle. He gives you exactly what you need: no more, no less. Sometimes you may think you want more, but you don’t. Boyle’s stories are perfectly balanced meals. There’s almost no comparing the amount of control that he has. You know you’d do anything TC Boyle told you to do. You would. And you’d like it. Boyle’s characters struggle, but because they want to–they throw themselves into mudslides to help complete strangers and ruin their clothes to push a truck loose. But they’re not saccharin heroes–they have egos and agendas of their own. In fact, most of these characters are far from heroes–they’re cynical and angry and lazy. They tell dramatic, heartbreaking lies, just to get out of work–just to watch movies or get drunk all day. These characters build to the title story. And Victor proves that at the very core, we are all constantly struggling for some kind of capture and some kind of escape: some dose of nurture and some dose of nature. And all at once, Victor doesn’t seem so far from the middle-aged woman spending thousands on plastic surgery, throwing herself at a man who doesn’t want her. We all have a little crazy in us–a little wild.

A Good Fall by Ha Jin

In Short Stories on January 6, 2010 at 2:35 pm

These subtle, gentle characters are the people that other people don’t notice–almost invisible. They slip in and out of everyday life. Not plain, necessarily, just background people. Chinese immigrants in America. An opera composer’s life is dramatically affected by parakeet, an untrusting husband cannot come to terms with his wife’s past, the owner of a small press publishes a handful of unknown poets, a girlfriend who cannot mix her laundry with anyone else’s, grandchildren who change their names to avoid being called “chicken,” and their grandparents who despise the change. The details are so seamless, so fitting, that these almost don’t seem like stories–almost don’t seem like fiction. More than well-told-tales, these are much more like sitting in on the lives of the people who pass by each day. The dialogue, the smells of apricot, the churning fear of an affair, all fit together like well stacked bricks. You can’t help but stand back and admire the firm wall. Ha Jin points out the people who don’t stand out and suggests, delicately, that we open our eyes and see life–all the things that every person shares with others.

Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories, by Annie Proulx

In Short Stories on April 23, 2009 at 3:42 am

Meet Chay Sump, Lightning Willy, Dixon Forkenbrocks, Hi Alcorn, Shaina Lister and the Devil. Annie Proulx’s characters are wild and creepy, poor and isolated. These are hard lives: they “saddle up, ride, rope, cut, herd, unsaddle, eat sleep and do it again.” Proulx’s humor is morbid and relentless. Laugh and cringe within a sentence. Many of these stories are timeless, fable-like tales that etch a skewed lesson deep into your skin. Proulx’s language is heavily clothed in description: you’ll taste the fried eggs and boiled potatoes; you’ll smell the sage and the trout and the whiskey. Pack your bags and prepare for this sometimes fantastical, sometimes nightmarish trip to the west. Meet these sad people and let them haunt you with their everyday lives. Proulx will reach up and grab you with each of these stories: then she’ll slap and shake you and force you to scream “uncle.”

How It Ended: New and Collected Stories by Jay McInerney

In Short Stories on April 16, 2009 at 1:12 am

These stories span from anonymous sex games in the after-hours clubs of Paris, to Kennedy wannabe politicians trying to avoid scandal, to hostage negotiation in war-torn Kabul, but these characters seem connected. Connected the way you pull up a barstool in an out of the way bar about a million miles from the small town you grew up in, only to start up a conversation with the next guy over and discover that you were practically next door neighbors. Jay McInerney prefaces the collection by saying that he studied the art of the short story with Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff: he knows his pedigree. These stories are familiar, but not because you’ve heard them before. They’re full of cigarettes and cocktails: urges and addiction, danger and relief. They’re full of sad realities: a widow with Alzheimer’s at the Belle Meade country club, a clam bake for restaurant waiters who want desperately to be writers or artists, but will never make it. McInerney will change the way you think about the short story: he might also change the way you think about loneliness, and love.