This collection has surpassed my expectations for a good read introducing me to several authors whose work is spectacular. In the collection some of my favorites include: “Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story” by Russell Banks, “The Hermit’s Story” by Rick Bass, “Silver Water” by Amy Bloom, “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” by Robert Olen Butler, “We Didn’t” by Stuart Dybek, “Tiny, Smiling Daddy” by Mary Gaitskill, “A Real Doll” by A.M. Homes, “Stone Animals” by Kelly Link, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, “The Cavemen in the Hedges” by Stacey Richter, and “Sea Oak” by George Saunders. In the interest of full disclosure I had read other works by many of these authors before, but only two of the stories listed here – Robert Olen Butler & Tim O’Brien’s specific pieces were read before this summer.
As for the pairing, may I recommend a collection of good green teas to keep you on your mental toes as you slide through one style to the next – Teavana has several although they are a little dear on the price. I would start with Moroccan Mint Green Tea.
The rest of this blog post is dedicated entirely to what I enjoyed about these specific stories and the collection, so without further ado fiction enthusiast powers activate.
Warning, this is a longer and often disjointed post that will mean a lot more to you if you've read some of the authors mentioned above.
Bank’s story was more controversial addressing a topic of modern society – the idea of beauty/attractive couples/love in a completely unique and heartrending way. Had the narrative been laid out differently, it would have been impossible to sympathize with the narrator, but the subtlety made the story exquisite.
Key Takeaway – A cultural taboo breaking subject carefully laid out, can evoke strong emotion.
Bass’ story relied more on a remarkable and moving setting invoking phrases like “the source of all blueness” to create the dark magic of a cruel and lovely world.
Key Takeaway – The reader relishes the opportunity to leave their world and experience a “once in a lifetime” setting.
Bloom’s story was all about style. The word choice and compelling montage of work were a blanket for the intensity of the piece.
Key Takeaway – Word choice matters. Period.
Dybek’s story was made by the author’s philosophies, his thoughts at different points in the story, and his unique outlook on the world. This is something every author brings to a story, but his in particular stood out for it.
Key Takeaway – Living so fully in your characters that you can honestly say what they had for breakfast.
Gaitskill’s story was a masterpiece of carefully interwoven unreliable narrator paired with the unrolling of a difficult conflict through character interaction and flashbacks.
Key Takeaway – Flashbacks don’t have to be the devil. I know all the writing books say they are, but done tastefully they can reveal character in a new way.
Homes’ story was disturbing, shocking, twisted in a puberty kind of way and explored gender and budding sexuality. It’s not for everyone, but God help me I read it twice in an ecstasy of the forbidden, on my honeymoon no less.
Key Takeaway – It pays to take risks, and you maybe shouldn’t bring books on your honeymoon.
Link’s story was terrifying and had magical realism elements. If that weren’t enough to garner my instant adoration and it is, I would say that she has a fascinating voice. I intend to buy more of her work in the future.
Key Takeaway – there are still genuinely frightening things to write about, madness for example.
Enough has been said about O’Brien’s piece in better forums than this.
Robert Olen Butler's piece was different and the matter of fact way in which he develops an incredible world is moving.
Key Takeaway - There are story ideas everywhere, even in the tabloids.
Richter's story was impressive to me not only because of the bizarre premise and fun opening, but also the understated domestic tension was such an impressive foil to the magic events happening simulatenously. I liked that she can write as a man as well.
Key Takeaway - Fun with gender politics aside, this piece had great action and matched the real and unreal in a dramatic way.
Saunders' story was an unexpected gem, as I am unfamiliar with his other work. The funny details of the story - like fake corporate names and ridiculous settings made this piece. I've seen similar moments in Karen Russell's work.
Key Takeaway - Remember the details and use them.
I don’t have anything bad to say about the other authors. All the work in the collection was good at its lowest points, that is to say magical in general. I only mention these stories because of their superiority; because they compel me to reach out to everyone I know and say, “have you read this? You must!”