American Grief in Four Stages – 3/5 Stars
I read this book in one go at the coffee shop. It’s short and small in size, so it lends itself to this kind of reading. The stories are not linked by common physical connections, but there’s some thematic elements that worm their way through a lot of the stories. A motif in this collective review, however, is where the marketing and positioning of the book get in the way of the book itself. That’s a failure on my part too, of course, but it’s annoying to be much about a story collection other than “Hey, these are pretty good!” But once you start getting into thematic connections without there being a direct purposeful connection like in The Things they Carried or Olive Kitteridge you’re doing a disservice to the book and the readers.
There’s a tonal connection here, though, that I think is pretty characteristic. Imagine something a few notches less dark than Ottessa Moshfegh, and I think that’s about the tone here. I generally hate the idea that I need to relate, identify with, or worst, like a character I am reading about and the clarity and directness of these characters is nice in that way. The author is not pulling punches, and so a character making some very destructive choices, personal or emotional, and not having the page count to get themselves out of things in time works just fine for me. There’s theme within here of 20s of a person’s life being especially chaotic and I found that to be true in my own life, and find it to be true here, so that’s effective and fetching about the stories. There’s less concern about these moments being remotely charming.
Shine of the Ever – 3/5 Stars
This is the second collection I picked up from the library (and I forgot to check it out, so I’ve STOLEN it — don’t tell, I will return it), and like the previous one above, there’s a serious failure of marketing. This again is a shame because the stories are better than the marketing’s limiting description, and worse, the description is factually wrong — for example, if you’re saying the book is a kind of mixtape of Queer Portland voices from the 1990s (like an Alison Bechdel book by way of a Richard Linklater movie) that’s all well and good until someone picks up their cellphone and goes on a Tinder date and posts on Facebook, all of which happens. If the idea is more Portlandia (which is maybe something they do and don’t want about the collection), that’s different.
Anyway, these are some very Queer and very funny and off-kilter stories. The opening lines of most of these are great, and these are definitely a nice study in character. I don’t like the kind of opening tone-setting piece almost at all (it’s a weird collective voice that feels like a manifesto both not supported by the stories and limiting and less interesting than the stories themselves). I really like the ways in which the stories do not hold hands with the reader, although plenty of the characters hold hands.