Everyday Life Is a Rich Mine Of Absurdity In 'American Innovations' Rivka Galchen's new story collection mashes up Heidegger and Will Ferrell in an off-kilter marriage that critic Alan Cheuse says practically defines the notion of eccentricity — but delightfully so.


Book Reviews

Everyday Life Is a Rich Mine Of Absurdity In 'American Innovations'

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Author Rivka Galchen has an interesting resume. After getting a medical degree, she completed her master of fine arts at Columbia. A few years ago, the New Yorker named her one of the top 20 writers under 40. Her first book was a novel, and now her second is a collection of stories. It's called "American Innovations." Here's our reviewer Alan Cheuse.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: I think of the book as being called American eccentric. Galchen writes about slightly off-center marriages or love affairs, about the thin boundaries in childhood between wonder and perversion, about real estate and existential loneliness, and sometimes she employs passages that sound, I know this sounds a little crazy, like an amalgam of Heidegger and Will Ferrell.

Galchen's sentences are so odd they catch your attention and hold it with a tight fist. In the story called "Wild Berry Blue," there's this prepubescent girl in Oklahoma fixating on an ordinary guy who works in a fast food restaurant. The guy's name is Roy. I felt so unsettled, she says, Galchen's young heroine in this American version of Joyce's masterpiece "Araby," Roy's fingers on my palm as I thrummed my hand along the low wooden fence. I had so little of Roy, and yet he had all of me, and the feeling ran deep, to the most ancient parts of me.

Statements like these catch your attention, but they don't overshadow the storyline and the characters. They become the essence of the particular curious nature of story and character so that even though in these pieces Galchen tries to give the impression of writing her versions of Vorhees(ph) or Gogol, she can't help being anyone but herself.

My God, in the opening story called "The Lost Order," her unemployed narrator, at odds with the universe, can't even answer her home telephone without plucking at the very thread of what holds the universe together. My phone was ringing, she says. The caller ID read unavailable. I tend not to answer calls identified as unavailable. One garlic chicken, a man's voice sang, one side of salad with ginger miso dressing, also one white rice.

He starts dictating his address. I have no pencil in hand. How long? Thirty minutes. He hangs up. This unidentified is still waiting for his order, and we have all these delicious stories. Galchen delivers.

CORNISH: The book is "American Innovations," a collection of short stories by Rivka Galchen. It was reviewed for us by Alan Cheuse, whose most recent story collection is "An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring."



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