An impressive mixture of emotional exploration and formal experiment.

MONSTERS

Structurally ambitious flash fiction that examines all the ways—great and small—in which characters can be haunted.

The monsters in this latest collection from multigenre writer Brennan (Little Dark, 2014, etc.) range from the recognizable (ghosts, zombies) to the whimsical (a talking cat) to the darkly realistic (brain damage, a cancer diagnosis). These 39 stories, many of which are only a few pages long and some of which clock in at just a paragraph, foreground their construction: they are as much about language and form as they are about plot and character. In the title story, a father tells the tale of his daughter’s traumatic brain injury, and as the story progresses, nonsense words get subtly swapped for real ones, mimicking the breakdown of language the daughter goes through. “Last Quartet” is about four characters on a road trip—one of whom is dying—and every paragraph is comprised of four sentences, each devoted to a different person’s perspective. But if this all seems overly dour or overly fussy, it isn’t. Each story is infused with humor, most often a wry treatment of character and a deadpan delivery. (“To Whom It May Concern in My Creative Writing Class: A ‘fascinator’ is a kind of hat,” one narrator abruptly explains.) The stories can veer into the absurd, too, as in “The Corpse and Its Admirers,” the story of three women, perhaps at a funeral home, who engage in increasingly outlandish behavior in the presence of the family patriarch’s corpse. And, as is so often the case with absurdism, if there aren’t many happy endings for Brennan’s characters (or, really, any endings at all), the reader is luckier: there is delight in merely reading these innovative and unusual stories.

An impressive mixture of emotional exploration and formal experiment.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 9781935536796

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Four Way

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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