SPECTACLE by Susan Steinberg


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An unconventional approach to storytelling makes this third compilation of short tales by Steinberg (Hydroplane, 2006, etc.) difficult to navigate.

Utilizing repetitive phrasing and a free-flow writing style paired with violent undertones and psychosexual themes, these 12 interconnected pieces explore a multitude of negative sensations that are emotionally draining. How we cope with guilt, anger and loss or commit actions that damage our own lives and relationships are some of the recurring themes that bind these tales together. In one story, a woman goes hiking with a man she likes, and they are accompanied by his friend, a stranger whom she doesn’t like, and she ends up having a sexual encounter with the stranger. Steinberg challenges our ideals of femininity and masculinity as she writes about a young woman, seething with anger and jealousy, who steals her boyfriend’s car radio and smashes it, only to discover that the act of revenge doesn’t have the satisfying effect she anticipated. When an acquaintance dies in an explosive plane crash in the title story, the narrator struggles with her own complex feelings, including resentment toward her father, who wouldn’t allow her to study abroad. And in "Cowboys," a woman deals with the decision to take her father off life support but doesn’t want to bear the responsibility, and thus the guilt, of making the decision on her own. Terse and angry, introspective and raw, Steinberg’s experimental writing style will not appeal to everyone. Her focus is on the emotion rather than on the character or action; the author hits the reader head-on with candid language and uncomfortable themes, and she does this well.

Modern fiction aficionados will most likely embrace Steinberg’s technique and vision; lovers of traditional short stories may find her writing difficult to follow.

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-55597-631-6
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2012


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