SHORT PEOPLE by Joshua Furst
Kirkus Star


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Childhood and its discontents, in a harrowing debut collection of ten subtly interrelated stories.

New York City playwright Furst begins with a nicely understated contrast between two six-year-old playmates: budding paleontologist Billy and imaginative, fantasy-driven Jason (“The Age of Exploration”)—each of whom secretly fears and envies the other’s distinctive qualities. Interludes between succeeding pieces offer terse vignettes of various children’s experiences of parental neglect or abuse: they’re in effect commentaries on the longer stories, whose relationship to them isn’t clarified until the penultimate tale “Failure to Thrive,” in which a maternity ward nurse reveals the extent and chilling nature of the compassion she feels for infants who are doomed to lives of unfulfillment and sorrow. Elsewhere, Furst creates scathing character portrayals of a teenaged girl on the threshold of adult sexuality (“She Rented Manhattan”); an absentee dad whose infrequent romps with his several children reveal both his charm and his heartlessness (“Red Lobster”); a hilariously foulmouthed Boy Scout hell-bent on becoming as “cool” as his unpredictable older buddy (“Merit Badge”); and an amorous boy helplessly attracted to a girl who’s burdened and empowered by her intense femininity (“Mercy Fuck”). The two best stories portray a “family in crisis” brought on by its well-meaning father’s “progressive” imperatives (no TV, no toys) and inability to empathize with his harried wife’s failure to control either their kids or her own maternal and sexual demons (“The Good Parents”); and a fledgling born-again Christian (nine-year-old Shawn of “This Little Light”) for whom baptism and confirmation turn into a fervent “literal interpreter, for whom actions, thoughts, and beliefs have palpable, cut-and-dried consequences,” and who can forget neither his own nor his parents’ human failings.

A thoroughly original take on the experience of being a kid, and wishing the whole baffling business of growing and changing would just go away.

Pub Date: June 6th, 2003
ISBN: 0-375-41431-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2003


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