Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Anchor book of new american short stories, edited by Ben Marcus

This book is the literary equivalent of a wine tasting experience. Some wines I found myself spitting all over the wall, but others are incredibly good ones, and make the whole experience worth it.

Sea Oak by George Saunders. 5 stars. Just out-of-this-world wonderful story. Great balance of humor, social commentary and a sprinkle of magic. But mostly humor.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
. 4 stars. Vikings feeling the blues. Without the attention-grabbing "blood eagle", I'm not sure this story would be as popular as it is.

Do Not Disturb by A.M. Homes
. 3/4 stars. Well crafted but SO brutal in its depiction of a failing marriage.

Gentleman's agreement
by Mark Richard. 4 stars.

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
. 1 star. Almost total nonsense. We get a "bunch of subconscious feelings and metaphors about a story", but we don't get the story. Too many elements are either obscure or left to the reader's interpretation (i.e. the two mice, the ending and the title's meaning). So why shouldn't the reader open a phone directory and find his own interpretation of that instead?

The Caretaker by Anthony Doerr.
5 stars. Phenomenal. It inspired me with delight and pleasure. It drew me in completely and made me care for the main character. Also loved the shift of location from Liberia to Oregon.

I'm slavering by Sam Lipsyte
. 1 star. Another "WTF" story that some people may say they like in order to feel special about themselves.

The Old Dictionary by Lydia Davis
. 4 stars.

The Father’s Blessing by Mary Caponegro
3 stars. Makes you really uneasy with its weirdness, and there is a "Whoa!" moment where magic realism comes in, but at least in this story you are allowed to understand what's going on.

The Life and Work of Alphonse Kauders by Aleksandar Hemon
. 1 star. I don't care what thinking went into this biography-by-list of an imaginary person, the story is just bullshit with a cherry on top. I remember writing exactly that type of nonsense (and funnier, too) with a friend of mine at school when we were 12.

The paperhanger by William Gay
. 5 stars. Unbelievable, electric raw-power mystery in the "southern gothic" style. What intensity.

People Shouldn’t Have to be the Ones to Tell You by Gary Lutz
. 1 star. All form, zero substance. I need someone to build a house and here comes this guy who loves bricks, every single one of them, but doesn't care about the house.

Histories of the Undead by Kate Braverman
2 stars. Beautiful writing, absolutely uninteresting content (a mentally ill woman's thoughts)

You drive by Christine Schutt.
1 star. A delicious piece about a father and a daughter having sex in a car. The topic itself is not the main problem (although it would be for me, as in "not interesting, thank you"), the problem is that, in the style of much of this "modern literature", the reader is called to create meaning and interpret things, because all is left unclear. Isn't that cheating? When did writers stop having the responsibility to actually write a story?

When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine by Jhumpa Lahiri.
5 stars. Elegantly written, this story is the only one in the anthology (aside from The Caretaker) that acknowledges the existence of something else outside of America. Yes, it is called "American short stories", but given that fiction is open to anything, I would have liked some more internationally-minded authors.

Down the Road by Stephen Dixon
. 1 star. Crazy dude walking in the night with a woman who is probably dead, and with whom he probably has sexual intercourse. Yeah. Really.

Two brothers by Brian Evenson
. 2 stars. Far too much horror and gore. Not my taste.

All American by Diane Williams
. 3 stars. Sounds like a page taken from a psychopath's diary.
X Number of Possibilities by Joanna Scott. 5 stars. Yes. This is a truly compelling story. Some weird elements but it drew me in in its originality and uniqueness.

Tiny, Smiling Daddy by Mary Gaitskill
. 4 stars. Clever story, father doesn't understand how bigot and disrespectful he's being to his lesbian daughter.

Someone to talk to by Deborah Eisenberg
. 3 stars. Very well written, clever, not pleasant but interesting. Someone said this is the "spiritual core" of this anthology! I scoff with arrogance and move on.

Where I work by Ann Cummins
. 4 stars. Nice little story with no ending.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace
. 2 stars. I found it uninteresting. The mental ramblings reminded me of the other story in the anthology, "Down the road". I don't think pointless mental ramblings make for very good stories.

The Sound Gun by Matthew Derby
. 3 stars. Surreal war and surreal soldiers.

Short Talks by Anne Carson.
1 star. Angry garbage.

Up the old goat road by Dawn Raffel
. 2 stars. Very unclear. One of those "to be read slowly" maybe, but still very unclear.

Field Events by Rick Bass
. 2 stars. Fairy-tale-like story full of fit male bodies and male nakedness. Next!

Scarliotti and the Sinkhole by Padgett Powell
3 stars - Good, but I found it a bit too experimental, trying to convey the world of someone with some sort of mental issues. Still worth a read.

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