Owlcat’s CBR 5 review #14 of Modern Weirdness – Tales from the Parallel Universe – 10 Short Stories and a Novel Excerpt by Dave Champoux

This will probably be one of my shorter reviews because it’s about 10 different short stories that I’m lumping together and the final one of which I didn’t read because I was burnt out on the “weirdness,” and the novel excerpt, I only skimmed to see if I would be inclined to order it.  Full disclosure, too:  I once worked with the spouse of the author.  Additionally, the book was a free download in a promotion to encourage sales and recognition.  All that said, here goes.

I have given the book two stars as an OK book, and considered, unfortunately, giving it only one star.  However, when I began reading the stories, I initially liked them, particularly the first few, particularly “No Other Baby Can Do This,” because I liked the way Champoux, who was being the typical new father here, was not taking the trite way out when projecting his fears for his daughter’s future.  Rather, he reflected on her future with all the fears we parents encounter but kept her as a pre-toddler in the story with adolescent behaviors, and it was an interesting and creative approach.  I found at the end of the story, I wanted more.

There were a couple of other stories within the collection, including “Devil” and “Walker’s Foot” that were weird but intriguing, but after reading them, gradually I became tired of the weirdness that began appearing in the other stories.  I might have been better off reading these stories one at a time with long intervals; my mistake may have been in trying to read two or three at the same time and within a week’s time, all of them, so that I became overly saturated with the weirdness.

What I did like was the author’s telling the stories in the first person, which allowed the reader to more clearly understand the perspective and thought processes going on within each story.  I also liked his locations of the stories, since they were local to me and I could better relate than some to the influence of the localities, especially, for instance, in “Radio Free Hampshire County.”

As for the novel excerpt, it was intriguing and written well and I would conceivably read the entire novel but at a later date.  It felt more real and less strange than the stories in the collection but it was also difficult to tell in what direction it was going. But because I liked the overall style of the author, albeit not necessarily all that “weirdness,” I would be inclined to give him another chance.  I wish, in fact, that I had read the novel first, and, as I said, spread out reading the stories over a longer period of time.  My bad perhaps.

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llp’s #CBRV Review 9: Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor

Leaving Home a Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories

I have been slowly reading this over the past few months, picking it up and putting it down as time has allowed. I found it relaxing and enjoyable – I am not enormously familiar with Garrison Keillor, but like his voice in this collection.

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #15: This Close: Stories by Jessica Francis Kane

This Close: Stories by Jessica Francis Kane (cover)Not many short story collections are entirely wonderful. One or two stories, while not necessarily un-enjoyable, usually feel like filler. And yet, Jessica Francis Kane’s new collection, This Close, is quite near perfect. It left me wishing for one more story, which likely means that the length of the book is exactly right. Twelve stories, some related and some standalone, navigate the yearning for connection and the complex interior lives that we all have.

 

(My full review appears on Glorified Love Letters.)

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #21: The Grass Harp by Truman Capote

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This edition of The Grass Harp includes  A Tree of Night and other short stories. The stories originally came out around 1950. The Grass Harp is the best known and, in my opinion, the best written, most complete story. It’s a coming of age story told from the point of view of an orphaned boy, Collin Fenwick, who lives with his two aunts. His is a reflection on a golden time from age of 12 to 16 and his love for his aunt Dolly. Dolly adores the color pink, sweet treats and is a loving and simple soul. She is older than Verena, but Verena is head of the household and has a reputation in town for being tough in business and tight with money. Dolly and Catherine, the maid who has been with the sisters since their youth, are close friends, and with Catherine’s and Collin’s assistance, Dolly concocts a secret formula for dropsy that she sells to local clients. The trouble begins when Verena sees the profitability of this venture and tries to build it into a genuine business. Dolly, Catherine and Collin run away from home and live in a treehouse in the woods for a short time, attracting attention and support from some other locals but ultimately leading to a showdown with Verena and local law enforcement. It’s a poignant reflection on family, loss, love and growing up.

Character development in The Grass Harp is more complete than in the other stories. In 100 pages, you get fairly well developed background on the main characters plus a host of delightful and fascinating supporting characters including the retired judge Charlie Cool who joins them in the treehouse, the sheriff and his cohort, and a traveling family of preachers. The stories in  A Tree of Night, on the other hand, lack this development and are much darker than The Grass Harp. They are set in the South or New York. Some provide a sort of slice of southern life, with some humor but also showing eccentricities and a darker side of small town life. Some are sad reflections on loneliness and depression, particularly the New York stories. Every story involves an intruder of sorts, someone unknown who insinuates him or herself into the main character’s life, usually with negative consequences. Some of the intruders are children and they can be downright sinister. I found these stories interesting but it seemed they ended rather abruptly and really aren’t of the same caliber as The Grass Harp.

Capote’s writing is arresting in all of the stories and that is what makes them so hard to put down and worth picking up. Character assessments are especially incisive. Capote describes Verena’s business acumen: “… money was like a wildcat whose trail she stalked with a trained hunter’s muffled step and an eye for every broken twig.” The local barber/town gossip Amos Legrand:  “A little monkeyman who had to stand on a box to cut your hair, he was agitated and chattery as a pair of castanets.” Capote also makes some interesting philosophical statements in his stories, such as “…dreams are the mind of the soul and the secret truth about us…” from Master Misery; and “…if you are not admired no one will take the trouble to disapprove…” from Children on Their Birthdays. Some of the loveliest prose can be found in The Grass Harp. “Below the hill grows a field of high Indian grass that changes color with the seasons: go to see it in the fall, late September, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices.”

Reading The Grass Harp and Capote’s other short stories was a most pleasurable literary experience and has made me want to spend more time with Southern literature. The mix of humor and nostalgia with social critique and a certain melancholy is a powerful and arresting combination in the hands of masters like Capote, Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee.

bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #39: Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

Woo hoo! Another contemporary author “collected” for me. I have not been as enthralled with Ishiguro’s earlier works as I have his later, so this must mean his next books will be really great, right? Either way, Nocturnes is a change of pace, since it is comprised of 5 short stories.

In one short story, a street musician must help a veteran singer woo his estranged wife. In another, a struggling guitarist finds himself becoming entangled in a failing marriage. And in another, a jazz musician hopes that a facial plastic surgery will launch his career.

Individually, Ishiguro hits on his familiar themes: isolation, the individual’s place against an unfamiliar and unfriendly world, and the nature of memory and dreams in our reality. But this time, he sets them to a backdrop of music that plays out in intriguing ways with each story. Some characters will bleed over into other stories, a beautiful tapestry that makes this collection satisfying and unifying in a way that other short-story writers have yet to master.

After reading Nocturnes, I really, really wish that Ishiguro had been the one to write Cloud Atlas. My biggest complaint about it was that despite the superficial connections between the sets of novellas, it didn’t really feel seamless, and it didn’t come together, even in the end. Ishiguro’s mastery in Nocturnes (and really, his other work) demonstrates that he can craft a story that is both compelling and eloquently written. He needs to write something new for me. Seriously.

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

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #33: The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards

This short-story collection by the author of “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter,” is mostly well-written and evocative. Each story is a unique vignette, often focused around male-female relationships in unusual circumstances, with occasional strands of the bizarre and the mystical tossed in. I felt I had traversed the globe, and traveled forward and backward in time by the time I had turned the last page of these stories, which range from the gold fever of an impoverished rubber-tapper in Malaysia to the downfall of a British matriarch in colonial India to the culture clash experienced by a Korean war-bride in her newly-adopted country. Edwards has lived and traveled in a number of Asian countries, and brings her special insights and familiarity with the cultures to bear in her stories.

All that said, I have to confess that as much as I wanted to love this collection, I found the stories very uneven, and the writing sometimes overblown and self-indulgent. The title story is the convoluted confession of a broken man, a performing “fire eater” who is betrayed by those he himself betrays. Thirst is a dark reverse of Disney’s Little Mermaid, more about whether we are fixed in nature or able to change who we are. In the Garden is a disturbing and, I felt, unsuccessful tale about self-love and the wrong kind of search for immortality. The Way It Felt to be Falling struck me as a rather adolescent view of adolescence, and The Story of My Life as a disappointing and somewhat shallow expose of religious fanaticism. I hated Aristotle’s Lantern, a poorly-conceived story which to me revealed the disappointment of an aging flower-child rather than any useful insight into the human condition.

But there are enough gems in here to make the collection worth working through. For example, The Great Chain of Being is a sad and slow-burning story of revenge by a daughter against the father who enslaved her and the siblings who let it happen. Rat Stories is about marital betrayal, told with a clever combination of both humor and pathos. The Invitation, my favorite, is a beautifully-constructed story about class/caste struggle, with many subtle nuances that lead inevitably to the stunning and very satisfying  revelation at the end. A Gleaming in the Darkness reflects Edwards’ thought-provoking view of personal sacrifice in the name of science.

Since these stories are a compilation of Edwards’ story-writing over a number of decades, it is no surprise that there is an unevenness in the quality of the writing and in the plot choices. One hopes that Edwards’ future endeavors in the short-story category will better showcase the accomplished writer that she has become.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #37: Delirium Stories by Lauren Oliver

16177805Okay, first, what is this annoying trend where authors omit bits of their story and put them in these short novellas? I hate it. It’s commercial and gross, I hate feeling obligated to read them, and it annoys me that they exist. With that said, I spotted this compilation of stories from Lauren Oliver’s Delirium world on the shelf at my library, and because it was in book form, the completionist in me knew I had to read it.

The three stories in the book (plus a chapter from Requiem, released before its publication date) are told from the perspectives of Hana (Lena’s childhood best friend), Annabel (Lena’s mother), and Raven (the leader of Lena’s group in the Wilds). All three stories show us alternate POVs for events that happened both during and before the Delirium books. And, I suppose to justify their existence as something other than a ploy to get rabid fans to pay more money, there are some revelations included.

The chief ‘pleasure’ of Annabel’s story is that we have heard virtually none of it, but Hana’s and Raven’s give us another view of events that have already happened. The chief revelation in Hana’s story is that she is the one who turned Lena and Alex in to the authorities in book one (something I learned for the first time when I read Requiem, but it was published here first). Raven’s is that she was fucking pregnant when she died, something that wasn’t even included in Requiem. I have bones to pick with both of these ‘revelations.’ Raven’s is the most obvious: if she was pregnant, we should have known about it. This is yet another example of how Oliver’s strict adherence to Lena’s POV (and Hana’s in Requiem) is a detriment to the story, as more often than not, Lena is an idiot with her head up her butt. Hana’s is a bit more complicated. There was virtually no clue in Delirium that Hana was so pissed off at Lena, so it feels like retconning when we learn about it. Again, I know this is in large part because if Lena didn’t know something, we didn’t know it either, but why limit yourself as an author to such a dull perspective?

I enjoyed the voices of all three of these women 1000% more than I enjoyed Lena’s. If Oliver would have included their POVs in the three novels, they would have been so much better, not only because we wouldn’t have had to spend all that time with Lena, but because it would have allowed her to open up the world she was building as an author in a much more in depth way (I know she included Hana as a POV in Requiem, but that’s a case of too little, too late). On a positive note, these stories on their own are much better pieces of writing than the main three books. Short stories suit Oliver’s poetical style.

Officially done with this series!