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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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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