Elegant, impactful writing in a deliciously unnerving collection.

THE STORY OF MY UNIVERSE AND OTHER STORIES

This volume of short stories teeters on the edge of plausibility, exploring everything from sinister cults to the coteries of academia.

Seventeen tales are offered in this collection of extremes written by an author who is equally comfortable examining the grisly as he is the demure. The opening story, “Shoot Me,” is one of strange coincidence—a young man accidentally shoots a fellow hunter in the forest only to learn that chance brought them together before. The following story, “Ball,” is a bizarrely intriguing tale about a man who inherits a mysterious sphere from an aging colleague and discovers that it holds wildly entertaining and destructive powers. Meanwhile, “Poet to Poet” is a cautionary tale about the predatory nature of academia. “The Metametamorphosis,” in which a fashion designer awakes to find he has transformed into a beetle, is a thought-provoking rewrite of Kafka’s masterpiece. The collection closes with the title story, which tells of a seemingly ordinary man who comes to the realization that “I murdered someone I didn’t even know.” When approaching Guerin’s writing, it is important for readers to expect the unexpected. Even then, nothing can prepare them for the knockout final sentence the author delivers in “Red,” the tale of a man who stumbles on a cult performing a ritual on a beach. Full of surprises, Guerin’s descriptive approach is refreshingly unconventional: “From this grassy bank wishbone-shaped twigs stuck up like fetishes.” Yet he also has the power to suddenly flip to the remorselessly brutal: “There didn’t seem to be any blood, though my fingers sank in slightly as if the skull had shattered.” The author’s stories are founded on a breadth of literary knowledge. In addition to Kafka, Gogol is a clear influence, even making an appearance as a supposed thief in “Gogol in Paris.” A naïvely pretentious conversation between two students in “Philosophy 000,” the weakest tale here, fails to bestow each character with a satisfyingly unique voice; on occasion, it is difficult to discern who is saying what. But this is a minor distraction in a strong and compelling assemblage that is sure to perturb and astonish in equal measure.

Elegant, impactful writing in a deliciously unnerving collection.

Pub Date: July 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-937484-81-1

Page Count: 263

Publisher: Amika Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

THE AWKWARD BLACK MAN

A grandmaster of the hard-boiled crime genre shifts gears to spin bittersweet and, at times, bizarre tales about bruised, sensitive souls in love and trouble.

In one of the 17 stories that make up this collection, a supporting character says: “People are so afraid of dying that they don’t even live the little bit of life they have.” She casually drops this gnomic observation as a way of breaking down a lead character’s resistance to smoking a cigarette. But her aphorism could apply to almost all the eponymous awkward Black men examined with dry wit and deep empathy by the versatile and prolific Mosley, who takes one of his occasional departures from detective fiction to illuminate the many ways Black men confound society’s expectations and even perplex themselves. There is, for instance, Rufus Coombs, the mailroom messenger in “Pet Fly,” who connects more easily with household pests than he does with the women who work in his building. Or Albert Roundhouse, of “Almost Alyce,” who loses the love of his life and falls into a welter of alcohol, vagrancy, and, ultimately, enlightenment. Perhaps most alienated of all is Michael Trey in “Between Storms,” who locks himself in his New York City apartment after being traumatized by a major storm and finds himself taken by the outside world as a prophet—not of doom, but, maybe, peace? Not all these awkward types are hapless or benign: The short, shy surgeon in “Cut, Cut, Cut” turns out to be something like a mad scientist out of H.G. Wells while “Showdown on the Hudson” is a saga about an authentic Black cowboy from Texas who’s not exactly a perfect fit for New York City but is soon compelled to do the right thing, Western-style. The tough-minded and tenderly observant Mosley style remains constant throughout these stories even as they display varied approaches from the gothic to the surreal.

The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4956-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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