Paris Stories–Mavis Gallant
It had gotten to the point where I felt confident purchasing any book published by NYRB Classics. My record with them was about 15-0. That’s when I bought Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories based entirely on the title and the NYRB logo on the spine. What can I say about Paris Stories? Well, it’s probably a good book. It’s not, however, a book for me. It took me four months to get through this collection and every page was a snooze-enducing chore. The only part of the book I actually enjoyed reading was the author’s afterword. Mavis Gallant comes off as a very interesting woman. I feel sort of bad that I didn’t like her stories more. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Wild Child–T.C. Boyle
A Death in Kitchawank–T.C. Boyle
T.C. Boyle Stories II brings together the author’s three most recent short story collections: After the Plague (2001), Tooth and Claw (2005), and Wild Child (2010). It also features a new collection entitled A Death in Kitchawank. I had already read the first two collections in the book, so I began reading Stories II on page 463. That still left me with 28 new stories.
Despite the fact that I somehow managed to skip over Wild Child until now, T.C. Boyle is one of my favorite contemporary short story writers. His T.C. Boyle Stories (1998)–which brought together his first four collections–is a modern classic and probably the book I’d take with me to the desert island, space station, etc. And I’m happy to say that Stories II isn’t far off from that high standard. There wasn’t a single dud in the batch of stories I read. Some of my favorite stories from Wild Child and A Death in Kitchawank were about the following:
- A father drives drunk to pick up his daughters from soccer practice and then has one of the girls take the wheel for the trip home.
- A Mexican boy who doesn’t feel pain may hold the key to a major scientific breakthrough…or he might just be a way to make some quick pesos.
- A professional baseball player heads off into the jungle to rescue his kidnapped mother.
- A rich couple spends a quarter of a million dollars to clone their dead shit-eating, car-chasing dog.
- A widower gets a companion snake after his wife dies but ends up preferring the company of the rats he buys for the snake’s meals.
- A man decides it’s a good idea to put on a ski mask and climb onto his neighbor’s roof as an expression of devotion and sexual availability.
- Russian peasants sneak back to their homes despite the fact that the land is still coursing full of radiation from a recent nuclear disaster.
- A Central American ruler plans to defeat his country’s enemies by breeding all the largest citizens to create an army of giants.
- A hermit dies alone in his house and a neighbor discovers and reads his journals. The hermit used to be a heavy metal musician!
Perhaps the story that will stick with me longest is “Good Home”. I don’t want to go into details about the story as some might find it disturbing, but I’d really like to talk to someone who’s read it and maybe pick their brain about what they think happened at the end. Never has so much depended on a sentence as seemingly simple as “Steve was out somewhere.”
I got Stories II from the library because I already had half of the stories on my shelf. I enjoyed the book so much, though, that I think I’ll buy a copy for myself. I’m sure I’ll want to have it on hand when I eventually write my Best of 2014 post. And you never know when I’ll find someone willing to read “Good Home”. It’s not like I can lend them a library book.
Journey Into the Past–Stefan Zweig
Not knowing they were capable of publishing a book I didn’t like, I’d accumulated a backlog of unread NYRB Classics. The whole thing went south with Paris Stories and continued in that direction with Stefan Zweig’s Journey Into the Past. The novella is about a man who falls in love with his boss’s wife. The boss sends the man to South America on a business trip. World War I breaks out while he’s over there and it’s many years before he can safely return home. Can the man and the woman pick up where they left off? Will their love affair survive the passage of time? These are the questions this novella tries to answer. Perhaps a better question would be this: did Stefan Zweig ever kiss a woman in real life? Because he writes romance like it’s a foreign concept.
The Price of Salt–Patricia Highsmith
I’d never heard of The Price of Salt until I read a local news story that said Cate Blanchett was in town filming an adaptation of the book with the actress who played the main character in David Fincher’s completely unnecessary remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The actress whose name I can’t remember is going to play Therese, the main character in The Price of Salt. She’s a young department store clerk who longs to be a stage designer. She falls in love with a glamorous customer named Carol (Cate Blanchett in the movie). Despite the difference in their ages and the fact that they live in an early 50’s New York where lesbianism is severely frowned upon, the two women fall in love and go on a roadtrip…followed closely behind by the private detective hired by Carol’s vengeful husband.
The Price of Salt is supposed to be a major work of lesbian fiction and a criminally neglected classic. I don’t care about any of that. It’s just a really good book. I highly recommend it.
The Letter Killers Club–Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
Krzhizhanovsky’s short story collection Memories of the Future was one of the great reading surprises of 2010. I’d never heard of the author and bought the book based solely on its title. It was actually one of my first NYRB Classics. I loved the book and kept my eyes open for other Krzhizhanovsky titles. I eventually found and purchased The Letter Killers Club, a novel about a group of men who secretly gather in a library full of empty bookshelves to share story ideas called “conceptions”. The first rule of The Letter Killers Club is that the members can’t write anything down. It has something to do with purity and something to do with Soviet-era censorship. It’s a pretty cool idea for a book, but I think it falls apart due to the weakness of some of the members’ shared concepts. Of the five shared concepts, I only cared for one of them.
So it turns out NYRB Classics is just as fallible as any other publishing house. The Letter Killers Club was my third book in a row of theirs that didn’t do much for me. I guess 15-3 is still a good record.
Star Wars: The Ultimate Action Figure Collection–Stephen J. Sansweet
This book features pictures of every Star Wars action figure produced between the years 1977-2012. In addition to the pictures, there are short blurbs about each of the toys. The book was fun to look through until I got to the 47 pages dedicated to all the Clone Trooper variations. There were an average of 6 figures per page, so that means that they made over 280 different kinds of Clone Troopers. And they all looked pretty much the same. I was so relieved when I finally got to the Cloud Car Pilot. There were only four of him.
(Stories II…and other books)