A volume offers daft—and oftentimes deft—madcap short fiction.

Not Quite so Stories

A collection presents short stories depicting modern life in surreal terms.

Atkinson (The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, 2014) packs 23 stories, rarely beyond 10 pages in length, into this slim volume. In “Home Improvement,” a man discovers that his house, possibly feeling neglected, has just gotten up and left him; he stoically moves on in diminished circumstances, like any recently divorced man. In “Happy Trails,” a heartbroken, semiamnesiac guy who has evidently tried to commit suicide with a gun—and failed—tries to clean up the mess (including the brains blown out of his head) and keep up appearances. In “The Onion She Carried,” a businesswoman visits her refrigerator and determines it to be an “onion day”; everything thereafter is determined by and weighed against the vegetable she brings with her. In “The Unknowable Agenda of Ursines,” the first-person narrator encounters a talking bear in a gambling casino; the animal challenges him to a game of blackjack as a civilized way of working out a grudge. In the closer, “Up, Up, and No Way,” a guy granted the miraculous power to fly is also afflicted with a crippling angst that prevents him from actually staying airborne (“He had the power to fly, but not the ability. Every time he tried, the fear would pounce on him. The harder he tried to overcome it, the more crushing the fear became”). Most of the tales have been previously published in small literary journals. They consistently reflect an absurdist point of view of contemporary existence, where goofy and ridiculous events happen, often diametrically opposed to logic, just for the sake of causing trouble—yet in circumstances that seem oddly relatable. Sometimes the joke gets a little old even in the space of a slight word count (“An Account of the Great Toilet Paper War of 2012”). But generally one is reminded of the more satirical pieces by H.H. “Saki” Munro from a century ago, and that is good company indeed.

A volume offers daft—and oftentimes deft—madcap short fiction.

Pub Date: Dec. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-942856-03-0

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Literary Wanderlust

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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