Tag Archives: Short Story

#fridayreads

In Chicago once more, the DBC team has many fall titles left to scale. Many of them will take us plain through to 2013. Here now are just a couple selections that we’ll be previewing shortly:

Both Flesh and Not: Essays by David Foster Wallace.

Little, Brown releases 15 never-before-anthologized essays by our most revered literary genius. The titular essay on Roger Federer is held up by fans alongside Infinite Jest as Wallace’s unparalleled masterpiece (something with which Kevin wholeheartedly agrees), and we’re particularly excited to read (and re-read) his dissection of Terminator 2, which we hope will cause the same unexpected stir of emotions that his 1996 essay on David Lynch and the film Lost Highway did. Though of course, because of whom we’re talking about, it will cause the unexpected either way.

 An End to All Things: Stories by Jared Yates Sexton.

It’s exciting when DBC’s Illinois-born-and-bred contingent can read a collection rooted entirely in the Midwest. Indiana, with its contrast between vast cornfields, a storied state university, and Gary’s industrial narrative, serves as a microcosm for America as a whole. These stories chronicle a town wracked with doubt as the collapsing economy closes in — written in presumed contrast to the book’s author, earner of an MFA who has the choice to be there or not be there. It’s a dangerous thing to trust just anyone with a Midwestern voice, so likely to accidentally condescend or misconstrue as they may be. But I trust Atticus Books, and doubt they’d put their faith in anything less than the real deal.

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Steven Gillis’s “The Law of Strings and Other Stories”

Steven Gillis's "The Law of Strings"It’s hard to admit to yourself that you’ve just read something you utterly don’t understand. With something like a physics textbook, or even a philosophical essay, the incomprehension with which you absorb the material seems more acceptable than when dealing with something like prose fiction, where the assumption (i.e., the cultural pressure) is that you can power your way through it with at least some vague interpretation. Pick a lens and go! seems to be the band-aid solution. Visual media are the same way: I sure as hell needed to consult Wikipedia to make sure I understood the intricacies of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I still understood the nuances of camera work, music, characterization. Sometimes that’s sufficient, and “counts” as having grasped the art you’ve consumed.

But sometimes you are just all out of band-aids, and that’s how I felt when reading Steven Gillis’ short story collection, The Law of Strings. The first story came to its final page to my surprise, as I literally hadn’t assumed I had gotten to the meat of the story yet, or any of the action. Gillis will do that, and seemingly by design: I was consistently thrown off in just the same way by every story to follow. Author Michael Griffith blurbs that Gillis “[explores] the intersections between quantum physics and everyday ethics, between cosmic law and domestic habit,” and that’s the most beautiful and true description I could’ve hoped for. But does recognizing those intersections in Gillis’s stories mean that I have sufficiently grasped each one? Is it enough to walk away from it recognizing beauty, while still being frustrated by the impotence of stories seemingly without endings?

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Tania James’s “Aerogrammes”

Tania James's "Aerogrammes"While it’s characteristic of writers to have stories to tell, Tania James positively bursts with them.

There is not a margin in which to let one’s mind wander as they read Aerogrammes, James’s jam-packed and hectically lovely short story collection.  Nor is there a moment to stop and wonder when these narratives might first have entered our writer’s mind, because the results appear to have been edited for years, flawless in their execution and always turning our eye toward a new someone and somewhere at precisely the right time – that is to say, just before our present characters show us the full extent of their vulnerability.

Leave it to Knopf to enchant us over and over again, this time around with a variant landscape of everything from early 20th century pro-wrestlers to chimpanzee adoption to fiscally-motivated marriages between ghosts and mortals. With exception to the latter (an exception that James’s convincing storytelling makes it hard to concede), the vignettes throughout Aerogrammes uphold our notion of the Possible, solidly grounded in what could reasonably happen to its characters in the modern world, but allowing us a hungry glance toward the fantastic edge of each reality.  All of this our author does in prose that glides so smoothly you’d think you’re hydroplaning between covers. It doesn’t even slow you down to notice how sad she’s made you feel.

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