DICTIONARY STORIES by Jez Burrows

DICTIONARY STORIES

Short Fictions and Other Findings
by ; illustrated by
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An A to Z collection of atmospheric short stories composed entirely of example sentences from dictionaries.

Designer and illustrator Burrows turns an artist’s eye to these delicate, intricately constructed microfictions. It started, he explains in the introduction, with a single line, culled from the definition of “study” in the New Oxford American Dictionary: “He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery.” With rules about the kinds of tiny edits he could make (changing pronouns, adding conjunctions, etc.), he set about assembling short stories from the bones of example sentences. Without forcing them, he achieves a remarkably diverse set of tales, assembling them much as one would a puzzle, finding which pieces fit together and then organizing them under general subject headings such as "apocalypse, the," "gossip," and "optimism." The stories are very funny, as in “Ten Dollars an Hour and Whatever You Want from the Fridge,” the only story in the "babysitting" section: “I’ll be home before dark. Here’s the money I promised you, a fifth of whiskey, a list of forbidden books, and a bulletproof vest. Thanks, I owe you one for this.” Many are mere trifles, such as “Bands You Probably Haven’t Heard Of” (in the "ego" section). Others are subtly, wryly subversive, as we see in the performance art–perfect “Fifty More Ways to Leave Your Lover” or the acidic “Breakup Side Effects.” Burrows also has a talent for a delightfully askew existentialism, as demonstrated by “Famous Last Words” that may include “Do you love me?” but just as blithely might offer, “Can I have the last slice of pizza?” Still others are calls to action, as in the entry titled “Reveille” in the "youth" section: “Keep your wits about you. Run along now. Run atilt at death. Go as fast as you can. Go, by all means. Go before I cry.” The stories are wickedly short but exquisitely rendered, accompanied by whimsical, minimalist illustrations by the author.

A fabulist remix of the English language and a tribute to clever lexicographers everywhere.

Pub Date: April 10th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-06-265261-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harper Perennial/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2018




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