Blog Archives

The Whore’s Child and Other Stories (Richard Russo)

1.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
On the one hand, Russo is a talented writer (a Pulitzer winner) who has a melodic style that I never regret reading… on the other, I feel fairly strongly that Russo’s far more suited towards long novels than the short story format. (In fact, I think that’s a direct correlation between the length of his work and my enjoyment of it). Though there are interesting characters here (a Belgian nun who’s the titular character of the collection, a photographer who learns more about his wife after she’s dead, and so on), there just isn’t enough depth developed in the characters or plot lines to really move me. As a whole, the collection feels a bit like something that was published to capitalize on his Pulitzer, as opposed to a work that would have stood up on its own.

Read more ›

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

You Are Not a Stranger Here (Adam Haslett)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a beautifully written collection of short stories that explore mental illness, death, depression, homosexuality, and how we experience our own pain, as well as the pain of others. The descriptions are sparse yet powerfully compelling, and the stories that work will stay with you, pulling you in and forcing you to feel the turmoil the characters are experiencing. Though there are some weak stories here and there, the powerful stories are more than worth the purchase price of the collection as a whole. One of my favorites… though it is a bit of an exercise in misery, with all of the stories being tragic, tragic, tragic..

Read more ›

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

Willful Creatures (Aimee Bender)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Bender’s writing is heavily stylized, and her situations make up a large part of the story’s effect – often they are metaphors for some more overriding emotion or experience, and sometimes it’ll click, sometimes it won’t. In general, I’m a fan: I think her prose is crisp and clear, and I can buy into the mystical universes because her characters are often, partially because they are featureless and nameless, more fully characterized and realized by their actions and what limited background we get.This collection however, is kind of hit and miss. It’s enjoyable at times, but nothing really stood out (unlike some of her other works) and nothing was grab-my-attention memorable.
Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

Last Night (James Salter)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
On the one hand, Salter’s prose is tight and concise, and many of the scenes and characters are vivid and passionate. But there’s just too much similarity in the narrative voices, the character make-ups, and the struggles they face. The stories required a lot of patience to get through, and many had this kind of last act twist I found annoying. The writing isn’t bad, but there are better things by Salter and by other authors out there to pick up.
Read more ›

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

Dancing Girls (Margaret Atwood)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The stories, although well-written for the most part, lack the fluidity and complexity we feel in Atwood’s longer pieces. Most of the characters feel trapped in various relationships and with a variety of shortcomings they are able to perceive in themselves, without being able or willing to change. We end up with a series of characters and stories where all of the action is internal, and all of the characters feel trapped in situations, which makes for a sometimes frustrating read. I’m a fan of Atwood in general, and list other books you might like by the author below, but ultimately feel like this was more of a miss than a hit for her.
Read more ›

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

Referred Pain and Other Stories (Lynne Sharon Schwartz)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Referred Pain introduces us to an eclectic group of protagonists and situations; some are surreal and fable-like. “Twisted Tales” and “The Stone Master” have unnamed protagonists trying to shift their way through imagined and imaginary fears and foes and have traces of Aimee Bender’s fantastical fiction.  The stronger works in this collection, however, focus on the everyday domestic situations and dramas which, often against the will of the readily recognized and empathy-inducing protagonists, are shaped by everyday crises. Like any collection, there are ups and downs, but overall, I laughed and empathized with many of the characters here, making it a worthwhile read.
Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

Leaf Storm and Other Stories (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The stories that work in this novel are powerful and enthralling… the first line, spoken by a young boy, is “I’ve seen a corpse for the first time.”  Each of the stories in this collection is dense, seeming to reach beyond the dramas of each character’s individual events and tragedies, but it is the title story which most diligently holds and mesmerizes us. Though the other stories in the collection are well-written and constructed, I have to admit that they didn’t pull me in the same way – many are fable-like: a man with wings, a vicious miracle-seller swindler whose child assistant becomes a true miracle-worker, an unidentified drowned man who seems to have such fantastical proportions that he eventually changes the way the villages think as well as how they construct and design their houses. The pacing also slows down after the title story, and while the passages are often quite poetic and beautiful, there is often very little action to push the story forward. The stories are still entertaining, just less involving, depending more on lyrical language than compelling or realistic characters.
Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

After the Quake (Haruki Murakami)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a witty, amusing collection of short stories which alternates between lyrical prose and quick dialogue.  It’s an easy and quick read with at least a couple of stories that are emotionally compelling.  Yet it’s hard to decide if, in a time when there are so many authors to read, so many collections to choose from, this particular collection is worthwhile enough to be picked from the slush-pile of options. This collection could have been great: there are sprinklings of elegant, characterizing prose, like when a wife leaves her husband by complaining that living with him is like, “living with a chunk of air,” and a divorced doctor who learns, while taking a vacation to Thailand, that “living and dying are, in a sense, of equal value.” Yet many of the stories seem to lack substance – you finish the story and think: okay, what next?  Many of our title characters seem to have mini-epiphanies that you’re not sure are either earned or justified, so that even though several of the stories are well crafted, it’s a very borderline collection for me.
Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

The Wonder Spot (Melissa Bank)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A series of connected short stories, The Wonder Spot chronicles a young woman’s maturation from awkward young woman (black sheep of the family) into adulthood.  Though there are moments of humor and it is a fun, fast, read, it was also a bit forgettable for me: easy to pick up, quick to breeze through, and just as easy to put down.  The plots are fairly predictable (you can tell fairly early on which boyfriends might work out, which won’t, and why) and though the writing was clear, it just wasn’t as engaging as I would’ve hoped, and I found myself actually reading other books in between finishing this one, which means that while I don’t regret reading it, it’s certainly not something I would recommend.
Read more ›

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

Wonders of the Invisible World (David Gates)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Gates creates a hosts of characters who are ordinary, extraordinary, tragic, and believable: they are steeped in both cynicism and hope, they both loathe and love the environments around them, they talk to themselves, saying, “enough with the similes and sentimentalities!” yet often taking us there anyway.  They’re meta — really meta — at times, always self-deprecating, make a host of mistakes and justifications (adultery, drugs, escape from the city to suburbia), and find small relief in their daily routines. The dialogue is quick, sparse, and effective, and the struggles are familiar and easy to empathize with… overall, this is one of the strongest short story collections I’ve read.
Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction