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BANG CRUNCH by Neil Smith

BANG CRUNCH

Stories

By Neil Smith

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-307-38610-6
Publisher: Vintage

Debut collection of nine limp stories, some realistic, others whimsical.

The opening story, “Isolettes,” illustrates that limpness. An, a translator, has “given up on relationships.” Still, she tells her gay friend Jacob, she’d like a baby because she feels “a bit adrift.” She arranges an artificial insemination with Jacob; the baby is a preemie; it dies in the incubator. Ironically, Jacob is more distraught than An, who stays detached, as does the reader. In the last and longest story, “Jaybird,” Benoit is a struggling, fairly talented stage actor. He’s also vain, competitive, promiscuous and dull. His apprentice in a theater mentoring program is Madeleine, a smart, resourceful scheduler at a talent agency whose famous clients treat her like a piece of furniture. Madeleine uses Benoit to get her revenge. This should have been her story, but Benoit is the lead, which makes for an uninvolving denouement. Smith also misfires with “Scrapbook,” the obliquely told story of a campus massacre that focuses on the relationship between Thomas, a survivor, and his girlfriend Amy. Thomas’s cowardly behavior is never examined deeply enough. Smith is more on target with “Green Fluorescent Protein,” in which 17-year-old Max fights his attraction to another male teenager. Max’s mother, a recovering alcoholic, gets her own story, (“Funny Weird or Funny Ha Ha?), a meandering lament for her dead husband. The best and worst stories are purely fanciful. In the title story, eight-year-old Eepie Carpetrod finds her age and brainpower accelerating dramatically, courtesy of a rare syndrome. She becomes famous, with her own cable talk show; then in old age, the process goes into reverse; the story is short, and it sizzles. “Extremities” is about some calfskin gloves in love with a store detective, and a dead astronaut’s right foot that makes landfall in a rosebush. Yes, it’s as silly as it sounds.

Smith’s frequent focus on the bizarre clouds his vision.