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Showing posts from November, 2016

New Yorker Fiction Review #154: "The King's Teacup at Rest" by Michael Andreasen

From the July 11 & 18, 2016 issue...

I love a good double issue of The New Yorker, not only because I am always way behind on my short story reviewing and the double-issue jumps me ahead two weeks, but because.... Actually that's the only reason.

First exposure to Michael Adreasen. In his story about an imaginary king who presides over dead amusement parks -- His Royal Highness the King of Retired Amusements -- I can't help but feel the strong influence of George Saunders and a certain type of 90s absurdism which, in my opinion, doesn't quite resonate any more.

The juxtaposition of a medieval-style king with this haughty title and his use of the Royal "We" up against the sad uselessness of a long-since shut down amusement park is funny, don't get me wrong. Like when the king gets a stomach ache from eating one of the park's leftover hot dogs, or when his servants try to operate the pirate ship ride so that he can "feel the rock of the waves...kno…

New Yorker Fiction Review #153: "The Fugitive" by T. Coraghessan Boyle

From the July 4th issue of The New Yorker...

There are a few things in life that have never let me down: chorizo, Adidas products, the hair of the dog that bit me, and T.C. freakin Boyle.

There are a couple signs of mastery of the fiction craft, in my opinion, one of them is the ability to write with such grace that the words actually recede into the background and allow you to forget you're reading a story. It's not just about "sucking you in" to the story, it's more than that; it's when the writer has mastered the form so well that the form disappears. That's what I believe T.C. Boyle does in his stories and why I like reading them so much.

This story, about a chronically ill T.B. patient who is determined to escape captivity and proper treatment in the hospital,has the kind of clear direction and urgency that I have come to expect from T.C.B. even in my limited experience reading his stuff.

This particular story almost reminds me of the sick, runaway br…

What This Election Proves

Suffice it to say, Donald Trump was not my candidate. I'm not going to spend a bunch of time crying into my beer here, but the past 36 hours have been just about the weirdest of my adult life. When I woke up yesterday, I wondered if I was living in an alternate reality. What does this election prove:

1.) First and foremost: This election proves that Liberal America, election polls, and "The Media" are completely out of touch with what's actually going on in this country. All of us who scoffed at the possibility that Trump could actually get elected should be ashamed of ourselves for our myopia and hubris. We were so busy waiting for the bus to come from the left, that it hit us from the right and ran us over. 
2.) I can never find the actual quote, and I'm starting to think it doesn't exist, but I once heard that William Randolph Hearst said [sic]: "No businessman ever went broke over-estimating the vulgarity of the general public." Meaning...again.…

New Yorker Fiction Review #152: "Upside-Down Cake" by Paul Theroux

My review of Paul Theroux's "Upside-Down Cake," from the June 27th, 2016 issue of The New Yorker...

I really like Paul Theroux but this story was a bit of a let-down.

"Upside-Down Cake" is a pretty boring story about the birthday party of a 90-year old grandmother and a "surprise visitor" who comes late and gets a less-than-enthusiastic reception. Throughout most of the story, we get a lot of the catty, back-biting that goes on between the now middle-aged (or older) children of said 90-year old grandmother, which is pretty stomach-curdling stuff with not a likable character among the lot. Which, I suppose, was the point. But it didn't make for very entertaining material.

What I didn't like about this story was that, up until the final reveal, it had the flavor of one of those too-cute, "my dysfunctional family" stories, in the vein of Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O." and the tension was so un-compelling that I actually f…

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…