Book Reviews

Review: Summer's Short Story Collections

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Alan Cheuse reviews this summer's outpouring of new short story collections. He says they run the gamut from the experimental to the fantastic to deep realism. The collections are Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu, The Woman Who Married a Cloud by Jonathan Carroll, and Signs and Wonders by Alix Ohlin. Cheuse teaches creative writing at George Mason University.


Now, a review of this summer's outpouring of short story collections. Alan Cheuse says they run the gamut from the experimental to the fantastic to the deeply realistic.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Stand back. The lead story in "Sorry Please Thank You," this spritely new collection by L.A. writer Charles Yu, has the title standard loneliness package and it announces that a sly, nimble fantasist with a speculative edge is at work here.

As the narrator of this story immediately makes known, he works for a company that outsources human emotion. From the pain of root canals to the depths of grief, every variety of suffering has a price and our man has done it. He'll feel for you, but by the end of this adroit piece of work, the narrator appears to be suffering from an emotional condition from which he does not care to be free.

Experiment plus emotion. We don't often find these two elements together, but when it happens, as it does in most of these stories by Charles Yu, it makes for terrific reading for the heart, as well as the head.

Love, death, damnation, resurrection, fantasy writer Jonathan Carroll, arguably the best least known storywriter and novelist in America - and he lives in Vienna - takes up big themes in very subtle ways. Nearly 40 stories gather together in "The Woman Who Married A Cloud," this collection that takes us to hell and outer space and back and includes vampire-sniffing dogs and women using an alien dating service.

Carroll's stories are so richly imaginative, so intellectually daring, you don't dare read the book end-to-end, so take it slow, a few stories at a time so you can savor them.

Meanwhile, back on earth with both feet on the ground and head down, we find young Canadian-born fiction writer Alix Ohlin working at the top of her powers in a new collection called "Signs and Wonders," showing us in a remarkably mature and flat-out realistic style a series of twists and turns in the lives of quite ordinary people - school teachers, women on the rebound, married folks and divorced folks, travelers, home bodies.

She could feel them all around her, the questions of her life, Ohlin reveals to us in the title story about a college professor from Philly who's fallen out of love with her husband. She could feel them all around her, at times beating like wings, at times soaring.

These closely worked stories about life on earth - they soar. They do.


CORNISH: That roundup of short story collections from Alan Cheuse. His most recent book is "Paradise, or, Eat Your Face," a trio of novellas. Alan reviewed "Sorry Please Thank You" by Charles Yu, "The Woman Who Married A Cloud" by Jonathan Carroll and "Signs and Wonders" by Alix Ohlin.

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