Skip to main content

Two Playboy Fiction Reviews: Stories from Walter Kirn and Jon Raymond

Image result for Walter Kirn
Walter Kirn
From the Jan/Feb 2017 issue of Playboy...

I can dimly remember having heard of Walter Kirn somewhere in my literary dabbles. Upon a quick closer look, he's the author behind the films Up in the Air (2009) and Thumbsucker (2005). I haven't seen either film, but I know of their existence, and I therefore realize this guy must be, in the words of Ron Burgundy "kind of a big deal." He's also married to Maggie McGuane, daughter of one of my favorite writers, Thomas McGuane. Not that that scores him any points in my heart.

His story in this month's Playboy, called "Finishing," is about a teenager who works at an ice cream shop and is having his job gradually replaced by a dexterous, ice-cream serving robot named "Lenny." One of the few things that keeps Tyson Millner from being completely replaced by Lenny the robot is that Lenny cannot seem to put the cherry on top of the ice cream sundaes properly. This becomes a hilarious tongue-in-cheek metaphor when Tyson starts hooking up with his boss, a much older woman named Carol.

This is a rare and unique story, in my opinion. What makes it rare and unique is it's "completeness," the way Tyson faces conflict and changes in response to it in a realistic way, and the way the ending ties the whole theme of the story together without seeming like it's been forced. Furthermore, Kirn manages to take a somewhat unlikely circumstance and put a real, 3-D character into it, and makes him actually do something interesting: seduce his boss so that she maybe finds a reason to keep him on instead of the robot. Kirn's glimpse into the mind of an 18 year old boy also seems deft and thoughtful, as he periodically has Tyson think back to his formative time at an Outward Bound type program called Youth Horizons. Makes me want to read more of Kirn's stuff.

Freebird: A Novel by [Raymond, Jon]Jon Raymond's story, "Visiting Violence," is actually an excerpt from his upcoming novel Freebird, which should be out by now, actually. This story is about a Navy SEAL who returns back to civilian life in the U.S. after 24 years of combat and encounters what he calls the "potato people" -- soft, flabby Americans unused to hardship and with no awareness of the horrors that men must face in order to keep them safe and comfortable.

Very interesting and engaging perspective from the main character and I enjoyed looking at cushy American life through his combat-weathered lens. I can't help but question whether it's worth reading a whole novel's worth of this, however; the synopsis on makes this sound like a sprawling novel of contemporary family dysfunction, somewhat in the vein of Phillip Roth's American Pastoral or Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. I think this is worth a closer look, if not at least a bookstore aisle flip-through.

(**Note: I just learned Jon Raymond has a novel called Night Moves, presumably named after the Bob Seger song. This guy officially gets the full endorsement of TGCB.)


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…