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Showing posts from April, 2014

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Box Sets" by Roddy Doyle

Issue Date: April 14, 2014
Roddy Doyle is one of those names that sounds way, way too familiar to me. It's a woman, right? No, no...a man? Wasn't she the "It" girl for twenty minutes in the late 80s? Was it the name of a co-worker at one of my first jobs? Maybe the fat kid from third grade who used to bring a book with him to recess? No. Wrong. None of the above. Roddy Doyle is, in fact, an Irish novelist and the author of the book The Commitments, which became the movie by the same title. Well, that solves that little mystery, I suppose. You live long enough and everything starts to remind you of something else.

Anyhoo...pretty short story here by Mr. Doyle, about an upper-middle class Irish couple -- Sam and Emer -- experiencing the emotional pressure that ensues when Sam gets laid off. Emer takes it all pretty well but Sam, on the other hand, feels a bit threatened by it all. Their survival doesn't seem threatened, per se, but Sam's sense of self and purpo…

Playboy Fiction Review: "Back Down Home" by Chris Offutt

Issue: April 2014

When I added the august and revered Playboy Magazine to my fiction reviewing "stable" last month, I kicked it off with a bang (no pun intended) with one by the great literary short story writer Stuart Dybek. This month's short fiction contributor, Chris Offutt, undoubtedly has his niche--he's publised a few short story collections, a memoir, and has indie film and major T.V. credits under his belt--but he can't have earned that niche writing stories like "Back Down Home."

This very short story takes place during one evening (maybe two hours) in the life of "Tolliver," a man in his late middle-age, 30 years an exile from his home in a rural county of Kentucky, who has decided to return with his much younger and apparently very sexy wife in tow. The Tolliver family must have caused some serious trouble in their home county, because Tolliver feels the need to "test the waters" by stopping at a honky-tonk (that's a …

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Pending Vegan" by Jonathan Lethem

Issue date: April 7, 2014

Jonathan Lethem may just be the hardest working contemporary writer in the business. I mean this guy is everywhere. He just released a big (both large and highly acclaimed) novel called Dissident Gardens recently and I understand he's coming out with another soon. Not to mention his previous bazillion books;
not to mention the fact that either his name, or something written by him, pops up regularly all over the high-brow and not-so-high-brow magazine press ever month; he just finished a novel called Friday at Enrico's on behalf of the book's original author, Don Carpenter, who died while in the midst of it....oh, and he also wrote the introduction to a recent biography of Norman Mailer. In short: Jonathan Lethem is a busier, more productive, and flat-out better writer than most of us can ever hope to be.

As for this story in particular...I wasn't overly impressed. I had took breaks of 24-hours or more in the midst of reading it, which is never…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Big Cat" by Louise Erdrich

Issue: March 31, 2014

I'm less-than-enthused by this offering from Louise Erdrich. This is the first thing I've read of hers since I read her masterpiece, Love Medicine (1984), back in high school. While I can highly recommend Love Medicine -- a collection of stories set on an Indian reservation in the 60s & 70s -- this story makes me a little curious about the state of her more recent work.

I think what bothers me about this story is it lacks the genuine texture and "close to the earth" quality of Love Medicine and, I'd suspect, most of her earlier fiction. Maybe she's exhausted her ability to write about life on an Indian reservation, but it seemed like that was the material closest to her heart. Furthermore, it seems like in this story, taking on issues of middle-aged love and divorce in white middle-America, she's out of her "zone" and the story falls flat.

It's kind of like going to see the Rolling Stones in concert only to find the…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Under the Sign of the Moon," by Tessa Hadley

Okay...I'm now fully convinced the New Yorker will accept and print any piece of fiction within its pages, regardless of quality, as long as it's written by one of the NYer's "approved" fiction writers. There's no other explanation for how this completely under-cooked story--"Under the Sign of the Moon," by Tessa Hadley--was allowed to make it into the magazine.

If I were the fiction editor I'd have, at the very least, sent it back to the author and said, "Add another 1,000 words and work on this some more"; at the very most, I'd have said, "You know what, Ms. Hadley...maybe not this time." This story is a like a dinner in which the waiter takes your entree away while you're still eating, draws you a picture of dessert, and then hands you the bill. I don't think I've ever felt quite so cheated by a NYer story.

I'm not a big Tessa Hadley fan, to begin with. I find her characters flimsy and not very likable…

Gum Reviews: Stride's Sour Patch Kids, lime flavored gum

Stride has never been my favorite chewing gum. I'm a Trident man. However, Stride usually comes in a close second to Trident; kind of like the Roger Sterling to Trident's Don Draper.

Anyway...I like what Stride's been up to lately, especially with its "Fearless Fruit" flavored gum, a fun, tasty, tropical punch sort of thing that has surprisingly good flavor-keep. But this new "Sour Patch Kids" line is an embarrassment to Stride gum.

Its flavor-keep is absolutely horrid. Horrid. Non-existent. Time-wise it's almost as bad as Fruit Stripe gum, which is the Mayfly of gums. But at least Fruit Stripe tasted so incredibly good--during those 10 precious seconds it actually had flavor--that one was always tempted to forgive it for turning into a rubberized ball of chemical mush before you could even decide what to do with the wrapper. Stride "Sour Patch Kids" gum doesn't even have that going for it.

This gum does not deliver anywhere NEAR the…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "The Relive Box" by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Issue: March 17, 2014

I'm not familiar enough with T. C. Boyle to understand why he sometimes writes as "T. Coraghessan Boyle," and I'm not even sure there is any pattern to it. All I know is, I like what I've read of his so far, including "Night of the Satellite" (GCB, 4/16/2013) and "Los Gigantes." He has a sort of jaded, 90s ironic, tongue-in-cheek style, creating slightly skewed, modern day worlds with a bent toward the tragicomic, dysfunctional characters of George Saunders. But he also seems to like to project forward into a not so distant and not-so-completely-implausible future, as in "Los Gigantes" and the story at hand, "The Relive Box."

The Halcom X1520 model "Relive Box" is a device much like a video game console with which people can re-live any of their past memories, all while sitting on the couches in their own homes. One merely turns on the Relive Box, programs into it a specific date, and the box…