Man. Julia Phillips’ Disappearing Earth is so good. And I’m so annoyed by it because it’s effectively a collection of short stories. I’m not going to revise my opinion that short stories are impossible to love because I continue to be frustrated by getting attached to characters and then having to give them up 30 pages later, HOWEVER, this book is probably a novel? Yeah, it must be – just with really focused chapters on very different characters.
The book opens with a chapter following two young girls in a Russian sea-side town as they are kidnapped. In the following chapters, each a subsequent month in the year, the narrative microscopes on a character touching the life and investigation of the kidnapping. Together they offer a portrait of a town fractured by racial divisions between the indigenous population and those of more recent settlers, between those committed to Soviet ideals and those aiming for something different. Threads of corruption and patriarchal control weave through, but with nuanced explorations and substantial counter portraits.
If anything the ‘novel’ is an argument for community, and how we have come to imagine ourselves and live our lives in isolation from the necessary communities that surround us. (Ah – that’s an argument for the form of discrete chapters, too!) It’s incredibly strong writing and a pleasure to be immersed in.
My complaint – and I’m reluctant to call it even a complaint – is the ending. I don’t want to say too much lest I spoil, but I did find it dissatisfying. Maybe it was a lack of foreshadowing? Or probability? Or that I’m simply opposed to pat resolutions. Anyway, you read it and let me know what you think of the ending.
Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists is either a series of tightly connected short stories, or a novel with very distinct voices and plots in each chapter, but whatever its exact form, it follows the staff of a declining international newspaper through the decline and inevitable fall of their paper (and the industry). Continue reading
Gah. Once again I accidentally read a short story collection and it was terrific. I may have to (finally) admit there’s nothing inherently evil about the form.
This particular collection, written by Phil Klay, and much ballyhooed by the New York Times, is pretty great. Focusing on the American role in the Iraq war, each story offers a slightly different perspective on the experience of war, from a solider returning home to a chaplain on the front lines.
I read it over the holidays and so now don’t remember as much as I wish I did, but I remember enough to suggest you read it. Uhhh – what specific thing can I say? Sorry. Not much. Next time I won’t wait three weeks to write about it…
I still don’t like short stories. And Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible is a short story collection. It helped that characters appeared in multiple stories, and that Lucy Barton shows up in lots of them. Helped because my memory is terrible and I don’t like getting to know a set of characters only to have them change 25 pages later.
All of the stories are brilliantly written with believable and raw characters. And an overarching tone of menace and melancholy (put that on your book jacket).
That’s all I have to say because it’s three days later and I’ve forgotten all of the stories in their particulars. It’s not the fault of Strout, but of the genre. I dislike Black Mirror for the same reason. Probably people who are better equipped for the world would just love the collection and be able to tell you specific moments as justification. But not me. So you’ll have to take my overarching feeling as proof. Flimsy though that may be.
(Also – what’s the name for the thing you use to steer a ship? Like does it have a particular name? I looked at once for 15 minutes and couldn’t place the name for it, getting increasingly worried that I am losing my mind.)