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Showing posts from May, 2014

Playboy Fiction Review: "Extreme (Part I)" by Don Winslow

Issue: May 2014

So my Playboy fiction reviewing is still a fairly new endeavor. This is installment number three, and while I'm not completely convinced it's worth it to keep going, I'm still convinced it's a nice counter-weight to my reading of the New Yorker short fiction because there's far greater chance of a curve-ball.

Last month's story, by crime fictioneer Don Winslow (whose book Savages was made into a movie by Oliver Stone last year)  is about a group of extreme sports enthusiasts who decide to pull a daring caper after one of their friends is killed trying to glide beneath a steel bridge on a base jump. Story starts off a little slow, but it gets better as Winslow gets deeper into the psychology and lifestyle behind extreme sports and the people who do them. And it only truly gets interesting when the friends decide to pull the caper. In fact, up until then it's just a psychological profile of adrenaline junkies.

Winslow's style is refreshing,…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "The Fugitive" by Lyudmila Ulitskya

Issue: May 12, 2014

Here we have a story by Russian author Lyudmila Ulitskaya, about a dissident artist in communist Russia in the early 70s who escapes questioning and possibly jail by escaping to a small countryside town, where he (I guess) finds some new things out about himself. I read this story through twice, and both times I failed to "get" it.

I would feel remiss as a reviewer if I didn't at least attempt to give my reasons for my dislike and/or misunderstanding of this story. However, I'm just going to have to feel remiss. Sometimes, very occasionally, a story just gets short-shrift for whatever reason. If I have time, which I doubt I will, I'll go back and maybe --- for the third time --- attempt to give this story a real run-down.

For now, I leave you with the following interesting line form the book, in which an old alcoholic peasant woman expresses her opinions on the communist regime:

"Listen, lodger, that new Stalin they have today, they praise …

Sam Lipsyte: Seems Like the Kind of Guy I'd Like to Have a Beer With

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Naturals" by Sam Lipsyte

Issue: May 5, 2014

This week's story comes from Sam Lipsyte, a guy I've never heard of until a few days ago but who I'm pretty sure, based on the voice in his fiction, is an okay guy. This is the kind of person you wish you'd end up sitting next to on a plane: witty, opinionated, cynical, funny, but ultimately good-natured and friendly. The kind of person on whom you can always depend to say something interesting or provocative and never ever boring. Maybe that's not the ideal plane-seat companion...I think I just have plane seating stuck in my head because two scenes in this story take place on planes.

In "The Naturals," the main character, Caperton, travels back home to visit his dying father. He meets a pro wrestler on the plane named the The Rough Beast, he bickers with his step-mother about his constant need to comb the refrigerator, reflects on his father's life as a booze-addled…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Man in the Woods" by Shirley Jackson

Issue: April 28, 2014

Since I've been reviewing the New Yorker short fiction (a little more than a year now) this is the second previously unpublished Shirley Jackson story that has appeared in the magazine. Jackson died in 1948 and apparently left a ton of unpublished work to the Library of Congress (or something). Her family have since gone back and published posthumous collections of these short stories. Apparently, there were even more stories left in the Library of Congress collection, because the family are still publishing them.

I'm sure Shirley Jackson fanatics (is there such a thing?) simply tremble with delight every time a new story collection or a new story gets "discovered" in her papers and published for the first time. But I'm of the opinion that some stories are best left unpublished.

This story is packed with (mercifully) oblique references to myths and fairy tales, and is even structured like a fairy tale, as a young man lost in the woods discov…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Hubcaps" by Thomas McGuane

Issue: April 21, 2014

Thomas McGuane is personal favorite of mine, as you might know from past blogs (oh, sure...), but I've been slightly less than impressed with his New Yorker fiction up to this point. Here, however, we have a charming, fun little tale set in the late 40s to early 50s about a kid named Owen who has loving (though alcoholic) parents on the verge of divorce, is obsessed with stealing hubcaps, has a mentally disabled friend named Ben, and in trapped in that most awkward of awkward phases of life: the "tweenage" years, between childhood and adolescence.

Owen's life is a confusing place from which he seeks shelter in his love of baseball, the outdoors, and of stealing hubcaps. His parents are heavy drinkers who get tipsy, if not sloshed, most afternoons and let him ramble as he pleases throughout the neighborhood and the woods. On the bus to school every day he is menaced by "the twins," a pair of precocious sisters who "run the show&quo…