Tag: short stories


Well Written Wednesday: All That Man Is

Posted 28 December, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Well Written Wednesday: All That Man IsAll That Man Is by David Szalay
Published by Graywolf Press on October 4th 2016
Pages: 358
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Nine men. Each of them at a different stage in life, each of them away from home, and each of them striving--in the suburbs of Prague, in an overdeveloped Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a dingy Cyprus hotel--to understand what it means to be alive, here and now. Tracing a dramatic arc from the spring of youth to the winter of old age, the ostensibly separate narratives of All That Man Is aggregate into a picture of a single shared existence, a picture that interrogates the state of modern manhood while bringing to life, unforgettably, the physical and emotional terrain of an increasingly globalized Europe. And so these nine lives form an ingenious and new kind of novel, in which David Szalay expertly plots a dark predicament for the twenty-first-century man.
Dark and disturbing, but also often wickedly and uproariously comic, All That Man Is is notable for the acute psychological penetration Szalay brings to bear on his characters, from the working-class ex-grunt to the pompous college student, the middle-aged loser to the Russian oligarch. Steadily and mercilessly, as this brilliantly conceived book progresses, the protagonist at the center of each chapter is older than the last one, it gets colder out, and All That Man Is gathers exquisite power.

First, funny story about All That Man Is, I remembered hearing about it at BEA. When I saw it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, I remembered that and picked it up. Last night, I finished it and went to take the dead tree book into the study where the rest of the books are stored when what do I see in my BEA book pile? Yep. All That Man Is. I is very smart.

Anyway, this book was a slow read for me – then again everything has been slow reading for me lately, so the fact that I finished it at all is pretty high praise. Szalay does some beautiful things with his prose, it’s really quite transporting. I think what I enjoyed most about this book was how European it is. I was stationed in Europe for about three years and I went everywhere that I could. A lot of the locations in this book were familiar-ish to me and Szalay’s writing is so transporting it was a little like being back there. At times it’s less a book about aging and growing and more of a travelogue.

The form of All That Man Is is another thing that is worth talking about. I suppose the easiest way to categorize it is to describe it as thematically related short stories. Each story follows a man in a different point of his life, in this way All That Man Is can be compared to Forty Rooms (which is amazing, read it), in that it is an exploration of aging within a particular gender. Forty Rooms spoke to me more, this could be a function of being a woman, but All That Man Is is powerful as well. The one flaw of this book is probably the fact that all the stories focus around white, middle class to rich men so social justice readers may have a hard time with that aspect.

Regardless, this is an incredibly well written and thoughtful book. Check it out.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Terrific Tuesday: Children of the New World

Posted 6 September, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrific Tuesday: Children of the New WorldChildren of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein
Published by Picador on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback ARC
Goodreads
four-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Children of the New World introduces readers to a near-future world of social media implants, memory manufacturers, dangerously immersive virtual reality games, and alarmingly intuitive robots. Many of these characters live in a utopian future of instant connection and technological gratification that belies an unbridgeable human distance, while others inhabit a post-collapse landscape made primitive by disaster, which they must work to rebuild as we once did millennia ago.
In “The Cartographers,” the main character works for a company that creates and sells virtual memories, while struggling to maintain a real-world relationship sabotaged by an addiction to his own creations. In “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” the robotic brother of an adopted Chinese child malfunctions, and only in his absence does the family realize how real a son he has become.

Children of the New World is fantastic. In fact, as of writing this review (30 July 2016), I have read 42 books this year. There are only two or three others that were as well written and enjoyable as Children of the New World. I picked up this book thinking that it was a novel, it wasn’t until I got halfway through the second story that I realized it wasn’t a novel but a collection of short stories. At that point I almost set it aside, (because I was in the mood for a novel) but ultimately decided to press on. Jeeze-o-pete, I’m so glad that I did.

I kind of relate this to the short story collection The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. Each story can absolutely stand on it’s own, but the collection as a whole is infinitely more enjoyable and most of the stories build off of the others in subtle and delightful ways. This method is how Weinstein has managed the extraordinary feat of excellent world building within the length of a short story. To be fair, the world building gets better the more stories that you read, but each story in Children of the New World is completely insular and most are 5 star stories in their own right.

A few of my favorites. Moksha takes the delightful idea that enlightenment is now something that has been digitized and can be downloaded into your brain – it’s now a drug that is illegal in most western markets. Phrases like:

There had been nonstop busts at yoga studios and health spas in the U.S.

made me giggle a little, but the chilling reality of where technology is going was, at times, sobering.

Later in the book with The Pyramid and the Ass the tenants of Buddhism are nearly criminalized and Weinstein makes ‘radical Buddhism’ synonymous with what the media calls ‘radical Islam’ today. Complete with kidnappings and mutilations. These kind of details are what I’m talking about when I say that Weinstein world builds within his collection of short stories. Both Moksha and The Pyramid and the Ass are excellent in their own right, but taken together they are phenomenal.

Another story in particular that I really enjoyed was the title story Children of the New World. In this story people are able to log into a virtual reality network and experience pleasures beyond their wildest dreams. They are also able to procreate, build houses, and lives in this reality (think The Sims). Children of the New World grapples with questions that I find to be extremely complex, even if they’re not quite ripe for discussion.

The only story that seems completely out of place and more incongruous than the others is the last one in the collection, Ice Age, I enjoyed this story, but it stood out – perhaps because of it’s placement – to be not quite a part of the same universe as the others.

So, Reader, has anyone has the pleasure of reading this collection yet? Thoughts and feelings on where technology is going for us? Is it out of control? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Redeployment: A Tournament of Books Selection

Posted 30 January, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Redeployment: A Tournament of Books SelectionRedeployment by Phil Klay
Published by Penguin on March 4th 2014
Genres: Fiction, General, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 304
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction · Winner of the John Leonard First Book Prize · Selected as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post Book World, Amazon, and more  Phil Klay's Redeployment takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned.  Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. In "Redeployment", a soldier who has had to shoot dogs because they were eating human corpses must learn what it is like to return to domestic life in suburbia, surrounded by people "who have no idea where Fallujah is, where three members of your platoon died."  In "After Action Report", a Lance Corporal seeks expiation for a killing he didn't commit, in order that his best friend will be unburdened.  A Morturary Affairs Marine tells about his experiences collecting remains—of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers both.  A chaplain sees his understanding of Christianity, and his ability to provide solace through religion, tested by the actions of a ferocious Colonel.  And in the darkly comic "Money as a Weapons System", a young Foreign Service Officer is given the absurd task of helping Iraqis improve their lives by teaching them to play baseball.  These stories reveal the intricate combination of monotony, bureaucracy, comradeship and violence that make up a soldier's daily life at war, and the isolation, remorse, and despair that can accompany a soldier's homecoming. Redeployment is poised to become a classic in the tradition of war writing.  Across nations and continents, Klay sets in devastating relief the two worlds a soldier inhabits: one of extremes and one of loss.  Written with a hard-eyed realism and stunning emotional depth, this work marks Phil Klay as one of the most talented new voices of his generation.

Whoa. This book takes on some of the hard truths that soldiers and Marines returning from (and participating in) the longest two wars in American history have to face. As a veteran this was a difficult read for me. When I started the book I didn’t realize it was a collection of short stories. At first I was disappointed because the first story is so raw and powerful. It’s about how a man returning home from Iraq struggles to reintegrate back into everyday life with his wife and dog. I wanted to know more of that character’s struggles. In the end though it turned out to be a good thing that this was short stories because I found that I could only read it in short bursts, so harrowing are the narratives at times. Perhaps this is the reason I don’t read a lot of war fiction (or war non-fiction, for that matter).

In a time where less than one percent of the American population is in the military – it’s so easy for some to forget the experience that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been through. There are many people who don’t know anyone in the military. This book is important if not for that reason alone.

A line in the first story ‘Redeployment’ struck me so hard because it’s the honest to god’s truth.

“We took my combat pay and did a lot of shopping. Which is how America fights back against the terrorists.”

What else is there to do after you’re haunted by a war that makes little to no sense to you or the rest of the country? Another line that I ran across hit me hard because as a veteran I’ve always had a hard time with the “Thank you for your service” type gratitude actions that I would get. It’s an awkward feeling that many veterans don’t know what to do with (I’m not saying don’t do it when you see a man or woman in uniform – just that it’s a weird feeling – at least for me).

“I was angry. I’d gotten a lot of Thank You for Your Service handshakes, but nobody really knew what that service meant…” 

I worked as a Unit Deployment Manager for the Air Force, it was my job to tend to all the airmen that would be deployed, ensuring they had all their training, paperwork, and equipment. While because of my rank I was not the one making personal selections on who would go and who would stay at home (unlike the Army, the Air Force does not deploy entire units at one time, instead it’s a piecemeal selection of individuals based on job functions that are needed down-range). Despite that I still fielded phone-calls from angry spouses and sent men and women away from their families to miss anniversaries, Christmases, and even the birth of their children.

The stories in Redeployment focus exclusively on the Army and the Marine Corps and I’m okay with that. The problem that I had with this collection is that there were no stories told from the point of view of female characters. Women, despite not technically being allowed in combat, are in combat. I felt that Klay might have strengthened his book if he could have told at least one story from the perspective of a woman.

The other thing that will probably drive civilian readers crazy are the excessive acronyms. It didn’t bother me because I knew what most of them meant, but I can definitely see this as being an impediment for a reader with little to no knowledge of military jargon.

Like I said, this was a difficult read for me but I do think that it’s an incredibly important and well written book. It’s not really about the wars themselves, it’s a portrait of the people who fight those wars at the lowest level. I have to highly recommend it to everyone.

As far as The Tournament of Books goes, I predict that it should at least make it out of the first round (depending on what it’s pitted against), but it’s unlikely it will take the whole hog.

What do you think, Reader? I know this has been a meandering review, but does this appeal to you at all? To those of you that are active duty or veterans, really, thank you for your service.

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Feminist Friday: Good Bones and Simple Murders

Posted 9 May, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feminist Friday: Good Bones and Simple MurdersGood Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on June 8th 2011
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, General
Pages: 176
Goodreads
four-half-stars

In this collection of short works that defy easy  categorization, Margaret Atwood displays, in  condensed and crystallized form, the trademark wit and  viruosity of her best-selling novels, brilliant  stories, and insightful poetry. Among the jewels  gathered here are Gertrude offering Hamlet a piece  of her mind, the real truth about the Little Red  Hen, a reincarnated bat explaining how Bram Stoker  got Dracula all wrong, and the  five methods of making a man (such as the  "Traditional Method": "Take some dust off  the ground. Form. Breathe into the nostrils the  breath of life. Simple, but effective!")  There are parables, monologues, prose poems, condensed  science fiction, reconfigured fairy tales, and  other miniature masterpieces--punctuated with  charming illustrations by the author. A must for her  fans, and a wonderful gift for all who savor the art  of exquisite prose, Good Bones And Simple  Murders marks the first time these  writings have been available in a trade edition in the  United States.From the Hardcover edition.

Can I just use all the adjectives to describe this collection? It’s brilliant, funny, surprising, troubling, sad, witty, and amazing all at once. Like all short story collections there are good stories and bad stories. 

The first story that made me sit up and go ‘huh.’ was called ‘Unpopular Gals’ – it was a few vignettes written from the perspective of female fairy tale villains. The evil queen in Snow White, the wicked stepmother in Cinderella – it was delightful in the way that Gregory McGuire’s Wicked is delightful with reimagining these one dimensional women, giving them depth, and making them sympathetic.

‘Simmering’ was flat out funny, creating an alternate universe where the kitchen is solely and completely in the realm of men. It’s a fantastic piece that embodies what the feminist movement is about – and that’s choice. To stay at home, to have a family, to be single, to work. 

‘Liking Men’ is a difficult piece about the struggle of rape survivors to feel some normalcy in intimacy after their attack – and just how long that can take. 

‘Hardball’ is a dystopian story – that if I ever talk to Hugh Howey, I’m going to ask him if it was a starting point of inspiration for his Silo series (You might know the first one as Wool) because it felt very familiar to that. Except, cannibals. 

I took notes on a few more stories that really stuck out for me, if you’re just leafing through the collection I’d recommend that you check out ‘The Female Body’ and ‘Cold-Blooded’ as well. Fantastic collection.

What about you, Reader? Have you read any great collections of short stories recently? How about the short story as a form, do you like it? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Spooky Saturday: The Frangipani Hotel

Posted 5 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Spooky Saturday: The Frangipani HotelThe Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
Published by Random House Publishing Group on April 1st 2014
Genres: Asian American, Fiction, Ghost, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 256
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A beautiful young woman appears fully dressed in an overflowing bathtub at the Frangipani Hotel in Hanoi. A jaded teenage girl in Houston befriends an older Vietnamese gentleman she discovers naked behind a dumpster. A trucker in Saigon is asked to drive a dying young man home to his village. A plump Vietnamese-American teenager is sent to her elderly grandmother in Ho Chi Minh City to lose weight, only to be lured out of the house by the wafting aroma of freshly baked bread. In these evocative and always surprising stories, the supernatural coexists with the mundane lives of characters who struggle against the burdens of the past.   Based on traditional Vietnamese folk tales told to Kupersmith by her grandmother, these fantastical, chilling, and thoroughly contemporary stories are a boldly original exploration of Vietnamese culture, addressing both the immigrant experience and the lives of those who remained behind. Lurking in the background of them all is a larger ghost—that of the Vietnam War, whose legacy continues to haunt us.   Violet Kupersmith’s voice is an exciting addition to the landscape of American fiction. With tremendous depth and range, her stories transcend their genre to make a wholly original statement about the postwar experience.

Should we start with the good or the bad? The good? Okay.  This book is excellent at creating atmosphere. The best stories are those that take place in Vietnam, after all since the war, it’s become a haunted place. An overall feeling of creepiness pervades all these stories. You just know that something is a little off – even when you can’t put your finger on it. 

The stories that take place in the U.S. have great spooky atmosphere as well, but since I’m an American, even though I am peeking in at Vietnamese culture – there’s still a familiarity with the setting that makes the spookiness a little weaker. 

There are one or two excellent stories in this collection. About 1/3 of the stories are just okay and the other 2/3 of the stories border on abysmal. Despite the excellent atmosphere and general creepiness, too many of these stories  have plot points that go nowhere it felt a little lazy, like the author could have (should have?) expanded some of the better stories into novellas and left the others on the cutting room floor. 

Admittedly I’m not familiar with the source material, that is the traditional Vietnamese ghost stories – had I been, perhaps this collection would have made more sense and been more enjoyable. As it was, most of the stories fell a bit flat for me. This is disappointing as I had pretty high hopes for this book. 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Twitter Tuesday: Twittering from the Circus of the Dead

Posted 17 December, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Twitter Tuesday: Twittering from the Circus of the DeadTwittering from the Circus of the Dead by Joe Hill
Published by Harper Collins on August 6th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 100
Goodreads
four-stars

Come one, come all. The show's about to begin. Step right up for the Circus of the Dead: where YOU are the concessions. #CircusoftheDead

I found this short story to be delightfully scary. It’s narrated through a series of tweets from a snarky teenage girl with the appropriate amount of teenage angst. In short, it’s just a Twitter feed. 

Things go from mundane to spooky to downright scary. 

TYME2WASTE begins by hating her mom, hating her dad, hating her brother and definitely hating that she’s going to have to spend the next 40 hours in a van with them. Her mother is concerned she’s too disconnected from the real world, so being a teenager, TYME2WASTE starts a Twitter account from her iPhone. When dad decides to make a pit stop at a spooky circus, things get interesting. 

The ending is expected but that doesn’t take away any of the charm or fun of this story. 

Excellent.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Monday Madness: Thumbprint

Posted 7 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Madness: ThumbprintJoe Hill's Thumbprint by Joe Hill
Published by IDW Publishing Pages: 126
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Private Mallory Grennan had done terrible things as an Abu Ghraib prison worker. After being discharged from the army, Mal thought she was leaving her sins behind to start a new life back home. But some things can't be left behind -- some things don't want to be left behind. By Joe Hill and Jason Ciaramella, the writing team that brought you the Eisner-award nominated one-shot, The Cape, with art by Vic Malhotra. Thumbprint will turn your guts inside out.

I’m going to take this entry and review both the short story ‘Thumbprint’ by Joe Hill, which has already been published, and also provide an advanced review for the graphic novel adaptation of the same name. 

Short Story: Kindle Single

 
Delicious! Joe Hill is an amazing short story writer and a good novelist. If he keeps up this show of talent he may rival his father one day! …meaning I should be buying signed copies of his books, now.
 
This is ultimately a suspense story, but there are deeper themes at work here.
 
This is a story that resonates with me as an ex-military member. It touches on the disturbances that war can cause in our psyche and the terrible things that people are able to do in the name of patriotism or freedom. PTSD is real and terrible. 
 
 

Graphic Novel

 
I read the short story first and I LOVED it. The graphic novel is not nearly as powerful – for some reason the two share the same ISBN on Goodreads. The illustrations are underdone and it lacks the power and the pain of a soldier who has done terrible things and is suffering for them. Just like with movie adaptations I find that it’s more difficult to convey the thoughts, feelings, and insights into characters the way that a novel or a short story can. 
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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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