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DICTIONARY STORIES

SHORT FICTIONS AND OTHER FINDINGS

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

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 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-265261-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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