Tag Archives: short stories

xo Orpheus edited by Kate Bernheimer

xo Orpheus edited by Kate Bernheimer: I did not have high hopes for this, as I’d only read books by two of the authors, and didn’t like either one of them. Still, this is a decent (though overlong) collection of stories inspired, however vaguely, by mythology from all over the world. Like all anthologies, there are some fantastic tales (The Sisters by Sabina Murray and The Last Flight of Daedelus by Anthony Marra are particular favorites), some truly dreadful ones, and a bunch that are just okay. The trouble with anthologies is that so many people who write short stories forget to include the story part: it’s just a bunch of descriptive passages with nothing ever actually happening. I would not have complained had the selection here been trimmed down a bit, but I understand the appeal of a nice round number like fifty. I also question the decision to order the tales by myth, meaning for example that all the Icarus tales were next to each other. Of course, this was not consistent: the story inspired by Demeter & Persephone was near the beginning, while the one just about Persephone came much later. I most appreciated the afterwords provided by each author or translator, explaining the connection to their chosen myth (or with mythology in general, as some chose to do). In short, I found this to be an interesting literary experiment, if not to my particular taste. Do not pick it up expecting modern retellings of classic myths. Instead, think of it as a general anthology with mythological elements thrown in.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (translated by Anna Summers): This is a reasonably short collection of stories about folks living in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, mostly in and around Moscow. Most of the stories are painfully sad, full of pathetic women scraping out a living and being completely trampled on by the men in their lives. And that’s when anything actually happens at all, which is fairly rare. I don’t know if it’s the way Russian translates into English or what, but I found the stories disjointed and vague. Or maybe – since I haven’t liked the other books I’ve read of this sort – I just don’t like modern Russian literature. And you know, I think I could be okay with that.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris (unabridged audiobook read by David Sedaris, Elaine Stritch, Dylan Baker and Sian Phillips; 3 hrs on 3 discs): These stories are kind of…awful. Not like poorly written – they’re quite well done, as far as that goes – but like, um, awful. Violent and mean-spirited and horrifying and depressing and generally unpleasant. I honestly am not even sure how many of them were supposed to be funny, something I’ve never had difficulty discerning with any of Sedaris’s nonfiction. The limerick at the end of “The Sick Rat and the Healthy Rat” got a bit of a chuckle out of me, but in general I did not enjoy this collection at all.

A note on the audio: Despite the stories not being my cup of tea, all four narrators were brilliant. I was especially glad to hear Baker, as I’d enjoyed his reading of another book ages ago. Funny how if you listen to enough audiobooks you start remembering readers.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings

Ugly to Start With by John Michael Cummings: A more or less interconnected collection of short stories about Jason, a boy growing up in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. I decided to read this out of a love for that particular area of the country, but was soon turned off by the characters themselves. Now, characters don’t necessarily need to be likable (if they did, no one would ever read Faulkner), but I found Jason to be a spiteful little bully without any real compassion. This was not helped by the lack of resolution in most of the stories; none of the characters ever seemed to change. Now, there’s a distinct possibility that I’m misinterpreting; the scenes are capably written, even if they don’t seem to go anywhere. The Scratchboard Project was probably my favorite: the characters aren’t pointlessly cruel to each other, and I found Shanice interesting and complex. All the same, I found the rest of this slim volume a bit of a struggle. Perhaps I would enjoy Cummings’s longer fiction better.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (unabridged audiobook read by David Ledoux, 12 hrs 11 min on 11 discs): I have discovered that I generally don’t go for short story collections, but after reading Heart-Shaped Box, I figured I could make an exception for Joe Hill. I’m glad I did. Most of the stories could be classified as some variety of horror, and those were generally my favorites. I particularly enjoyed Voluntary Committal, The Black Phone, and 20th Century Ghost. Definitely recommended, though not for the squeamish. He is his father’s son, after all – though I would argue that Hill is the better storyteller of the two.

A note on the audio: Ledoux is simply excellent. This is what voice acting is supposed to be. His tone, inflection, usage of stuttering and dramatic pauses – all of it adds to the atmosphere of each story. Brilliant. I definitely need to pick up other books he’s narrated.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules edited by David Sedaris

Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules edited by David Sedaris (audiobook with multiple readers; 3 hrs 30 min on 3 discs): A friend gave me this, as we are both Sedaris fans. None of this is his work (save the introduction, which was on par with most of his better essays), but I decided to trust his judgment and try something new. As with most collections, the stories were of varying quality.

Where the Door is Always Open and the Welcome Mat is Out by Patricia Highsmith, read by Cherry Jones: Mildred is rushing around frantically to prepare for her sister Edith’s visit. The reader was great, but the story itself was pretty boring. Maybe it was because I just wasn’t all that interested in the characters, or maybe because all the minutia felt excessively detailed.

Bullet In the Brain by Tobias Wolff, read by Toby Wherry: A fascinating little vignette that stretches out an instant of time into a fully coherent narrative, and it ended at just the right spot too.

Gryphon by Charles Baxter, read by David Sedaris: A new substitute teacher with crazy ideas. Sedaris did an excellent job, which is kind of surprising since he tends to narrate in a sort of monotone, but somehow he managed to get across everything with subtle changes in pitch and inflection. Probably my favorite of the batch.

In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried by Amy Hempel, read by Mary-Louise Parker: I’ll be perfectly honest here: I had a whole lot of trouble following this one. Maybe I was just distracted, but I have absolutely no idea what it was about.

Cosmopolitan written and read by Akhil Sharma: A somewhat strange tale about an older Indian man attempting to have an affair with his American neighbor. Sharma probably should not have read his own story, as his cadence tended toward the droning, but I still very much enjoyed the story, and the ending made me smile.

In all, not a bad collection. These are the sorts of stories we’d read in creative writing classes, which gave me weird flashbacks from time to time, but it was a nice break from the string of novels I’d been listening to lately.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith

Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith (unabridged audiobook read by Michael Page; 3 hours on 3 discs): A sort-of retelling of the myth of Angus, Celtic god of dreams and youth and love. The chapters alternate between the story of Angus’s life and more modern vignettes that somehow incorporate Angus in various forms. Though Angus is supposedly a god of love, all the vignettes were rather sad: love lost, doubt, infidelity. I felt very disconnected from the whole thing, really. The parts about Angus’s life came across more like someone was describing the myth to me, while the other stories were so vague (and dreamy, if you’ll forgive me) that I never quite got into them. In short, this book was decent, but did not convince me to seek out other books by this same author.

A note on the audio: Page, on the other hand, was quite good. His English and Scottish accents were lovely, and his Canadian accent was even somewhat convincing. (This is high praise; I have come across very few UK actors who can speak with a convincing North American accent.)

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Dog Park by Ann Elwood

The Dog Park by Ann Elwood: This collection of short stories revolves around the regulars at a dog park in southern California. I will say up front that I do not own a dog and have never been to a dog park, so I cannot comment on the accuracy of the setting. However, I don’t think you really need to be a “dog person” to understand or appreciate these stories. Many of the tales are about human drama, though of course dogs play a central role in every one. One thing I noticed was how bittersweet or even downright sad most of the stories were. I even shed a few tears during “Not Just a Dog.” The plots are well-constructed and the characters believable, but don’t expect a bunch of heart-warming doggy stories. Very few have what I would consider happy endings. All, however, do have reasonably satisfying endings, and that’s all I really ask of a story. I remain interested in reading more fiction from Elwood in the future. Maybe she should release a tortoise collection next. I bet she could do that well.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Dreaming Again edited by Jack Dann

Dreaming Again edited by Jack Dann: A surprisingly consistent collection of quality fantasy stories by Australian authors. I haven’t read much Australian lit – and indeed had only heard of one of the authors (Garth Nix) – but this was marvelous. Only a couple of the stories were boring and/or needlessly unpleasant to read. (I don’t object to unpleasant reading as a general rule, but when it’s unpleasant for no reason I feel manipulated.) The range is broad, from angels to zombies, humor to tragedy, modern Australia to the Garden of Eden. All in all a great sampler.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: Spent much of the book having absolutely no idea what’s going on. But that’s okay. Basically it’s a series of interconnected stories that go through the diary of an American man in Australia in the 1850s, a British musician in the 1930s, a mystery-solving American journalist in the 1970s, an elderly British publisher in the present day, a clone on trial in nearish-future Korea, a goat herder in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, and back again. I’d hoped there would be a little more connection between the stories – more on the comet-shaped birthmark, for example – but that was not to be. It also got a little preachy in places. My favorite was probably the elderly British publisher who gets committed to an old folks’ home against his will. All in all it’s a decent read, but far too long for the amount of interest it held for me. Which sounds about like how I felt about the other Mitchell book I’ve read, Ghostwritten: great characters, probably could use a reread, but if you prefer less convoluted tales, you might want to skip this one.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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