KimMiE” ’s #CBR5 Review #13: The Dreaded Feast, Writers on Enduring the Holidays, edited by Michele Clarke and Taylor Plimpton

Image

I’m a big fan of Christmas, but even I have to draw the line somewhere. While I’m not above buying gifts in July, I have no patience for people who put up twinkle lights in October and even I can only sit through so many viewings of Its a Wonderful Life before reaching for the insulin. So when I spotted The Dreaded Feast in a used book shop the week before Thanksgiving, I thought it would be a nice antidote to the super saccharine influence of the holiday season.

It is an antidote, I suppose, in the way that morphine would be an antidote for a headache. It’s not just that the collection of essays is too snarky for me. It is (and that is saying something) but I can’t really blame the book for that. After all, the back cover says in big block letters, “For people who aren’t so crazy about the holidays.” I ignored the warning, thinking surely that the negativity would be balanced with redemption. So, my bad there. But what really irritated me was that the humor-ish essays were all very obvious. Let’s face it, Christmas is a pretty easy target. There’s a lot of room there for mockery: the fruitcake, the carolers, the ugly sweaters. Now that I think about it, ugly sweaters were pretty much overlooked in this collection, which seems odd (note to self: write Dave Barry-esque essay on ugly Christmas sweaters for publication before Jan. 1). The point is, there’s lots to make fun of, but making fun and making something funny aren’t the same thing. For all its jokey criticism, the essays just didn’t elicit many chuckles from me.

Not all the essays are humorous, though. John Cheever’s Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor is a thought-provoking tale worthy of its own essay. Last Last Chance by Fiona Maazel and Oh, Christmas Tree by Augusten Burroughs are both curious stories that are more interesting to me than a study of the office Christmas party. And don’t even get me started on Hunter S. Thompson’s contribution—what the hell was that about? The point is, this is an anthology, so one would expect a mixed bag.

The more I read, however, the more the collection as a whole started to bug me. Overall there just didn’t appear to be any cohesive theme. The selections seem so random, like the inclusion of a single scene from a play called “The Truth About Santa” and an anonymous 17th century diatribe on the vanity of the Christmas holiday. It feels like the editors simply selected the first thirty pieces of writing about Christmas that weren’t The Gift of the Magi and called it a day.

I’ve read some excellent short-story collections in the past, where each piece of writing stands independently while also contributing to a whole. Unrelated works can sometimes build on each other and shine a light on similar themes, making each more thought-provoking or worthwhile than it had been on its own. Sadly, The Dreaded Feast isn’t one of those collections.

Advertisements

bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #74: Bluebeard’s Egg by Margaret Atwood

I’m a huge fan of Ms. Atwood’s novels, and I really enjoy the short story, “Happy Endings.” So I thought it time to read a collection of the short stories. As it turns out, I’m not sure there’s anything Atwood *can’t* do.

Bluebeard’s Egg deconstructs family, love, and marriage in its forms. The story “Bluebeard’s Egg” is startling for the surprise it contains, especially when we’ve set up to believe the husband is a certain kind of character. I won’t say more to spoil the surprise. The stories are haunting and poignant. And, of course, beautifully written.

I like short story collections, because they are fairly simple to read. You can read a story in the evening, and pick the book up the next day. Or, if more ambitious, you can polish off several stories in an evening. I really enjoyed this collection, and if you are a fan of Atwood, then I believe that you will too.

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review 28: Saints and Sinners by Edna O’Brien

It has been quite some time since I have read a short story, possibly not since college. I picked this collection up at a book sale because it seemed to have good reviews on Goodreads and I wanted to try something different.

If you are in the mood for something unrelentingly depressing, then this is what you are looming for. I think I maybe would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t tried to read it like a novel and had taken my time, but I just slogged through it, grimacing.

She’s certainly a good writer, but I found her usage of pronouns and narrators to be a bit misleading and frustrating. I have been buoyed to give other short story collections a go, but this one just wasn’t for me.

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #30: Half as Happy: Stories by Gregory Spatz

Half as Happy by Gregory SpatzYou know a book is good if you only stop reading so that you can tell the author, at 1 AM via Facebook, how much you are enjoying it. The evening I began reading it, I’d plans to watch Doctor Who, which, if you know me, is serious business. I thought I would read a little, then turn on the TV. No, I kept reading. Let it be known: Gregory Spatz’s new story collection, Half as Happy, is a wonderfully gratifying little book.

This is the passage, from the story “Happy For You,” that had me thinking, Jesus, this guy is good at opening paragraphs, and that’s when I jumped online to tell him so:

For the moment, she is asleep — an ethereal gray sleep, something like the color of brain matter or of wet cement at dawn, or of the light seeping across her ceiling. A window fan at the foot of her bed whisks air into the room — wet, early spring air — furls and unfurls it around her, keeping her aloft in her dreams.

[…]The phone rings, jerking her from this gray ethereality, aches in her joints and muscles all previously dissolved out of reason magically reasserting themselves.

(My full review can be found at Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #29: The Girlfriend Game by Nick Antosca

The Girlfriend Game by Nick AntoscaA few years ago, I read Nick Antosca’s novel, Midnight Picnic, a ghost story unlike any I’d read before (though, admittedly, that might not mean much, as my horror-swath is not so widespread). I enjoyed it immensely, so when I was able to get my mitts on his new collection of short stories, The Girlfriend Game, I had high expectations for satisfyingly surreal, dark situations.

When the stories “Predator Bait” and “Soon You Will Be Gone and Possibly Eaten” distracted me from my current Netflix obsessions, I knew I was once again in good literary hands. Yes, yes, the old guard intellectual hope is that a love of books trumps television, but television has writers too. Nick Antosca is one of them (Teen WolfLast Resort). Perhaps it is that innate sense of urgency, the need to fit all the necessary information into a smaller 22 or 48 minute package, that makes The Girlfriend Gameso enjoyable. These aren’t happy tales, but the confusion, loneliness, and yearning for change feels so authentic to each individual world.

(My full review can be found on Persephone Magazine.)

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #57: Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

side jobsSide Jobs is a collection of short stories and novellas published by Jim Butcher in various anthologies. Each story follows Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only Wizard for Hire, on smaller cases in between books (and one case that is from Thomas’s POV). The only exception is the last story, which is new for the collection, and takes place about two hours after the ending to Changes (and made me want to go out and read Ghost Story immediately . . . sidenote, this novella may also be indirectly responsible for me accidentally becoming a criminal).

I think it was very considerate of Butcher to publish these in one place so I don’t have to track them down myself (either that or his publisher wanted money and he gets my good will as a side bargain). I really resent when authors publish things in anthologies because it’s so hard for me to keep track of everything, which I realize is a horrible and stupid reaction, but I don’t care.

Most of these stories are fun little side trips (hence the name) that wouldn’t have fit elsewhere in the books (some are a bit shoehorned in, as there are thematic requirements to some of these anthologies, i.e. the star-crossed lovers one with Murphy and Harry). And the very first story of the collection is a bit shaky, not that I’ll hold it against it, as it was the very first bit of the Dresden Files Butcher ever wrote, and as he admits in the intro to the story, it’s at best an amateur effort and only included for funsies basically. That’s probably my favorite part of the collection, actually, is those introductions in front of each story. Well, that and the last story, which is told from Murphy’s POV.

If you’re a Dresden Files fan, this is a must read. Don’t pick this up as an intro to the series. You will be lost and/or not care. Or maybe I’m lying and I just want you to read things in order like a normal person. Wow, this review is weirdly angry. I think I need a snack or something. TOODLES.

Mrs Smith Reads Tenth of December by George Saunders, #CBR5 Review #11

80_semplica-02 c Martin Ansin


”…any claim I might make to originality in my fiction is really just the result of this odd background: basically, just me working inefficiently, with flawed tools, in a mode I don’t have sufficient background to really understand. Like if you put a welder to designing dresses.”
—George Saunders

I really hesitated to read Tenth of December, a compilation of previously published short stories by George Saunders. I had seen Saunders on “The Colbert Report” and liked what I had heard from friends who had read his work. He’s often favorably compared with other writers that I really, really like and my own writing style was once described as being similar to his. And that was the problem. I did not want to be disappointed. Saunders had been proffered as the perfect author for me and I couldn’t bear to be let down, because obviously, the failure would be mine.

Mrs Smith Reads Tenth of December by George Saunders