Tag Archives: stories

Otherwise Known as Love: ‘Pretend I’m Your Friend’ by MB Caschetta

MB Caschetta’s recent story collection, Pretend I’m Your Friend (Engine Books; 200 pages), explores what one of its characters calls “terrible love.” In eleven entwined stories, Caschetta examines confusing and often painful friendships, romances, and familial bonds: a set of parents who share a sexual desire for their kids’ babysitter, a dying mother who wishes cancer on her daughters instead of herself, a clairvoyant whose visions the end of her marriage. Just when you think you have wrapped your head around the root of a character’s issues, Caschetta will offer a different perspective in a later story. One problem bleeds …Continue reading

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In the Face of Absurdity, Macro & Micro: ‘Cries for Help, Various’ by Padgett Powell

Of the various genres travestied by the entertainment industry, perhaps comedy has become the most befouled. With a few notable exceptions, inane millennial hi-jinx, “awkward” situations and encounters, and mundanely quirky characters flit across American television and computer screens with an unsurprising steadiness. In the face of this, a writer like Padgett Powell is of the greatest importance, as reminder of what comedy, specifically literary comedy, can be. Wry, strange, and with a sense of tragedy only partially concealed by the stories’ peculiar and surrealistic narratives, Cries for Help, Various (200 pages; Catapult) exhibit’s a comedy which is still in …Continue reading

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The Wistful Battle to Be Better: ‘Bream Gives Me Hiccups’ by Jesse Eisenberg

If Jesse Eisenberg’s first fiction collection were made up of simple extended bits, in which Eisenberg takes an initial premise and wittily wrings it for every drop of comedic juice possible, the book would still be an entertaining read. What makes Bream Gives Me Hiccups (Grove; 256 pages) more than that, however, is the dissection of social anxiety underlying each piece. Through a myriad of perspectives—from a precocious, broken-homed nine-year-old boy and an obnoxious college freshman with self-projection issues to Carmelo Anthony after an irritating run-in with a fan—Eisenberg relates a collective understanding of how difficult it is to both …Continue reading

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Old Souls and Deep Sadness: ‘In Another Country’ by David Constantine

Readers of British author David Constantine’s In Another Country (Biblioasis; 277 pages) may identify in his stories certain hoary elements of style and material that have been all but abandoned by contemporary U.S. writers seeking to depict modern life in all its fragmented complexity. Absent are the ingratiating narrative voice, the frenetic observation, the satirical punches to the gut dealt to unworthy characters. Constantine’s characters have souls, and do such un-ironic things as write long letters to one another, which they send via mail. The stories are simply plotted, harrowing, and enduringly powerful; the prose is uncompromisingly lyrical yet rarely …Continue reading

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Translating Horror: Hassan Blasim’s ‘The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq’

To translate may be “to turn from one language into another.” But there is another meaning—to “remove from one place to another”—the underlying current being that the felicitous translation is not merely one of technical and semantic moves. Translation, as Borges’ “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” purports as much as lampoons, is an act of rewriting for a culture with a wholly different epistemic, lexical, and historical foundation. Those things that revolve around and jut forth through the translated text— from editorial interjections and the frameworks of the material book to a culture’s sensibilities and history—render the text as a protean …Continue reading

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Big Two-Hearted River Still Runs: Donald Lystra’s ‘Something That Feels Like Truth’

The recent award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Alice Munro was one of those cultural events which seemed uniquely well-deserved, if just because of the Canadian author’s modest attention to the little disturbances of men—and women— that give life meaning and shape. It may mean—I hope it means—a rebirth of interest in the short story, a form that while notoriously hard to “brand” in the publishing world, is uniquely qualified to communicate such particularities. Donald Lystra explores this territory with tact and precision in his new collection, Something That Feels Like Truth (Switchgrass Books/Northern Illinois University Press). A …Continue reading

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Deft Handling of the Short-Short Story: Ethel Rohan’s ‘Goodnight Nobody’

Ethel Rohan’s latest collection, Goodnight Nobody (Queen’s Ferry Press), is a slim volume of thirty (extremely) short stories, most of which clock-in at under five pages. It’s a daring, highly compressed form, and Rohan uses it to turn out characters who are often stuck, ill-adapted, grieving, or fallen out of love. In “Someplace Better,” one of the few longer pieces in Goodnight Nobody, a guy picks up a girl at a tattoo shop. She’s young and beautiful, and she’s there to get a tattoo of a planet across her forehead. Though the tattoo artist refuses, the manager relents, and it’s …Continue reading

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The Beginning of the End: ‘One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses’

Lucy Corin has a gift for illuminating the dark and the unsettling through flashes of often absurdist humor, even of beauty. As the title of her new story collection, One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses (McSweeney’s, 192 pages), suggests, Corin’s imagination is vast. In it, she nimbly shuttles us among a soldier encountering a witch, treasure-guarding dogs, and a girl he knew in high school; a pubescent girl agonizing over her coming-of-age rite, in which she selects a “madman” for her own; a high schooler obsessed with a neighborhood girl who disappears after California begins to burn unceasingly; and a …Continue reading

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Restless in the Wilds of Eastern Idaho: David Kranes’s ‘The Legend’s Daughter’

From rainbow trout jumping in the Salmon River to watering holes on the edge of McCall Lake, each of the ten stories in author and playwright David Kranes’s The Legend’s Daughter (Torrey House Press, 172 pages) transports the reader to the wilderness of Eastern Idaho. While Kranes renders a common setting in each story, the collection is not simply a detailed portrait of Idaho, but an examination of the lives of restless people seeking to escape from their lives and find peace. In “The Man Who Might Have Been My Father,” a fifth-grader and his mother strike out on a …Continue reading

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Life as a Flounder, or Lizard: ‘No Animals We Could Name’ by Ted Sanders

Ted Sanders writes the kind of sensitive, careful prose that makes it easy for the reader to forge connections with the most unconventional of characters—whether a flounder or a lizard—and to live for pages as someone (or something) you thought you could never identify with. A collection of fourteen individual narratives, each forming its separate universe, No Animals We Could Name (Graywolf Press; 272 pages) is a beautiful expression of feeling in the form of prose. Putting a surrealist spin on the most realist situations, Sanders’ hyper-observant prose and delicate descriptions are at once gentle and urging, prompting you to …Continue reading

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A Quiet Kind of L.A. Confidential: Ry Cooder’s ‘Los Angeles Stories’

Going by musician Ry Cooder’s new book of short fiction, Los Angeles Stories (City Lights Publishers; 230 pages), L.A. in the ‘50s was a place where what you didn’t know could ruin your life, or kill you. “Everyone out there is a mad dog from Hell until proven otherwise,” claims the owner of a beauty salon in the book’s opening story, and Cooder seems intent on proving her right. Each of Cooder’s eight stories contains at least one murder, usually more. They center on ordinary people—tailors, mechanics, dentists, train conductors—whose lives are warped, derailed, or ended by the schemes of …Continue reading

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The Strangeness of Loss Imbues ‘Widow’

A collection of 17 short pieces, Widow (Bellevue Literary Press; 160 pages) is, as the title suggests and the opening story firmly establishes, concerned with a particular loss — that of the beloved partner. Though several of the book’s stories were written after the death of California author Michelle Latiolais’s husband, and the impact of that loss is felt on every page, Widow is not a memoir, yet neither is it entirely fictional. Drawing on a variety of genres (meditations, stories, and poetic vignettes) and points of view, Widow offers a kaleidoscopic view of the world from deep within the …Continue reading

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