Friday, May 22, 2015

Short story roundup: week three

"Redeployment" by Phil Klay in Redeployment
This National Book Award, New York Times bestselling collection examines he modern soldier's experience. These stories, which I read at friend Merrill's recommendation, were gutwrenching and heartbreaking. The subtext seemed to follow that they can never really go home again. I purchased this book even though I had vowed not to buy any books for this challenge, but I'm glad I did because I know I'll want to finish reading it.

"Love and Honor and Pity and Pride" by Nam Le in The Boat
I bought The Boat a long time ago--maybe six years ago--and was happy to get to this shelf sitter. When this debut collection was initially published, it was to great acclaim. Most stories center around the immigrant experience, particularly that of Southeast Asians. The first story, "Love and Honor and Pity and Pride," which is a reference to Faulkner, is gorgeous. It features a Vietnamese-born graduate student at the Iowa Writer's Workshop who, facing writer's block, co-opts his father's story for his semester final. What follows is a meditation on father-son relationships and guilt and responsibility.

"The Pilot" by Joshua Ferris in 20 Under 40
I returned to 20 Under 40 to read Joshua Ferris' "The Pilot." I had read and loved And Then We Came to the End, which I read coincidentally right after my 2008 layoff. It was dark and funny. I also read his sophomore effort, The Unnamed, which I did not love. It was a short novel about a man with a disorder in which he couldn't stop walking. It was sad but mostly confusing. Since I feel Ferris has a lot of potential, and since I loved the first novel more than I disliked the second, I turned to a piece of short fiction. "The Pilot" follows an alcoholic screenwriter as he tries to finish writing his TV pilot. His networking escapades and attempts to stay sober are farcical but not always funny. The story left me feeling a little meh.

"Another" by Dave Eggers in How We Are Hungry
My friend Caryl and I saw Dave Eggers read from What Is the What at the Pen Pals series sponsored by the Hennepin County Libraries. I thought this novel about the Lost Boys of the Sudan was pretty genius. Eggers is a little bit of a hottie and wickedly talented and sort of knocked my socks off that day at Pen Pals. I bought a copy of his story collection, How We Are Hungry, because I wanted to read more. Most of the stories in this collection are short in length, and so I dived in with the first, "Another." This is the story of a divorcee who visits Egypt and takes a horseback tour of the Pyramids. His discomfort in the saddle becomes more physically punishing as the tour progresses and the pyramids reveal empty chambers, yet he requires another and another. Could masochism be a theme? Or perhaps the tour is an allegory for a search for self.

"The Lesson" by Kelly Link in Get in Trouble
Back to Kelly Link in the hope of finishing this collection. I enjoyed "The Lesson," the story of a gay couple that is expecting their first child (by surrogate). They take one last fling a trip to private island wedding of friends. Their trip is cut short by the early arrival of the baby, a preemie whose survival is questionable. Freaky folklore and a groom with a mysterious reputation create gorgeous tension throughout.

"The Nimrod Flipout" by Etgar Keret in Nimrod Flipout
I bought The Nimrod Flipout on impulse at Micawber's Books when shopping for the boys' Christmas book stacks--you know: one for them, one for me. It has one of the best jackets ever. The book jacket touted Keret, an Israeli writer, as a genius, and finally I had a chance to see for myself. The title story, "The Nimrod Flipout," is about three buddies whose friend, Nimrod, commits suicide after a psychological break. Almost as a curse, the three buddies have periodic, alternating flip outs. It was strange, and I had a hard time making a connection to the writing.

"Lusus Naturae" by Margaret Atwood in Stone Mattress
Lusus naturae means "a freak of nature," and so it is that the protagonist of Margaret Atwood's same-titled story has a genetic condition that renders her frightening to others. The girl's family stages her funeral and confines the girl to their home so they won't have to deal with prying neighbors. But the girl grows bored at home and often sneaks out until she's spotted by townfolk. This story was wily and had a lovely whiff of folklore. Atwood wrote it at Michael Chabon's invitation for his anthology, McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories.

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