Category Archives: Book Review

Young Revolutionaries

Young Revolutionaries is a chapbook by Chelsea Martin, Catherine Lacey and Ellen Kennedy.

I like this book. Each person’s section does something completely different from the other two. This way, there’s no room for competition among the stories. Instead, the stories rub up against each other in an exciting way and make the book feel like a variety show. (And everybody loves a variety show.) It’s a good argument for sharing a chapbook with other writers. It makes me want to do it too instead of hogging the spotlight.

From Martin’s good, too-short first section, “Things I Know”: “What do you do with a box of 50,000 condoms? Put the box by your bed and when people come over and look inquisitively into the box, make an exhausted, dreamy expression.”

From Lacey’s “Spending Too Much Time Around People Who Like Me”: “Anytime I read a book about Pompeii, it bothered me when the historians assumed every man and woman pair were husband and wife or at least in love or died in some kind of romantic way… Lava can do that. It can make people appear to be in love.”

Kennedy is good at describing social awkwardness/boredom, TV to comic effect (“They show him screaming in a parking lot while smoking.”), and a girl and her dad ganging up on mom.

Would this chapbook be more electable if it wore a flag pin on its lapel? Maybe (particularly when trying to make a good first impression), but the writing is good enough that anyone who actually reads the chapbook will not question the patriotism of these fine women.

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Dogsitting

Because of a dog, I spent last week in a house with lots of good books in it. I picked up a handful of short story collections and read the first story in each. Here are the ones I liked:

“Escapes” by Joy Williams – from Escapes – Magicians, alcoholic Mom, daughter learning to close herself off out of self-defense. This is my first Joy Williams story. There has been a lot of Joy Williams buzz in my life this year. I want to read a novel of hers.

“I Dream of Microwves” by Imad Rahman – from I Dream of Microwaves – It’s hilarious and original and grounded in desperation. But then this review made me think that maybe it’s good that I only read the opener. But it sounded like the reviewer’s tastes are pretty different from mine, so I don’t know.

The Faerie Handbag by Kelly Link – from Magical Thinking – I found it online for you! Link edits Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and lives where I live. I want to submit to LCRW now.

Sickos by Deb Olin Unferth – This one I read online.

“The Great Divide” by Charles D’Ambrosio – from The Dead Fish Museum

“The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman” by Steven Millhauser – from Dangerous Laughter – I liked the “struggling to remember her” stuff more than the “we made her disappear by ignoring her” stuff.

And then I read the “New Stories” section of Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From. It’s great. It’s like an extension of Cathedral. Except for that last story, “Errand,” which reads mostly like a solid New Journalism piece on Chekhov and makes no sense at the end of the book that sums up the man’s career.

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Gradations, Evaluations, Recommendations, Weigh Stations

sammichel

Book: Yeah, I’m in the guy’s workshop, but we’re all adults here, or pretending to be, so I’m going to go ahead and recommend Big Dogs and Flyboys by Sam Michel while it’s still fresh in my mind. The book has got truth written all over it. The central character, Adam Oney, has a beautiful, whimsical voice that is equal parts sage and innocent. Here’s a little taste of the part where Adam gets fat:

“Mars Bar, a Butterfinger, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Brave foods, unafraid of health and smeary-lipped nutritionists, fads in anti-caloric dining. Foods whose expiration dates would indicate they were practically immortal. I wanted not to die. I waked up thinking maybe I could die, but here now life was good. Flavors, absolutely. Sights and sounds. I liked life as it landed my way by the senses. I liked the sound of wrappers. I liked calories. Memories, too, I liked, the anticipation of senses in the abstract. Some part of me must always pine for brisket.”

In the last year, I’ve developed an appreciation for writing that is tuned into all the senses. Mike Young was saying the other day that The Road made him want to eat canned food, and I think the “Adam gets fat” part of the book made me want to have a junk food binge, or at least I had some compelling arguments for how it could be done. But what I love best about the book is Adam’s hopeless optimism. It breaks my heart, the way he holds on to his friendship with childhood best friends long after the friend has forcibly removed himself from Adam’s life.

Movies: “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” made me want to go see more Coens and Anderson. So first I watched “Hudsucker Proxy” and it was just alright. But then I saw both “Miller’s Crossing” and “Boogie Nights” this week, and both of those were great films, especially the writing. I listened to a little bit of Boogie Nights commentary and Anderson was saying that his whole directorial philosophy was to write a good script, get actors who are good at interpreting scripts (Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly), then shoot to the script. Ah, so that’s how you kept artistic vision intact a collaboration.