Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

"Thunderstruck and other stories" by Elizabeth McCracken (Jonathan Cape, 2014)

Stories from "Zoetrope: All story", Granta, Ploughshares, etc.

  • "Something Amazing" - A mother, Joyce, is still mourning her daughter, who's a ghost maybe -
    • "The soul is liquid and slow to evaporate. The body's a bucket and liable to slosh", p.4
    • "The dead live on in the homeliest of ways. They're listed in the phone books. They get mail. Their wigs rest on Styrofoam heads at the back of closets. Their beds are made. Their shoes are everywhere", p.11
    • "Now Joyce feels the world shake and thinks, Mexican jumping bean. She can't decide whether the house is the bean and she's the worm, or the bean's her body and the worm her soul", p.12

    It's a fast-moving, style-shifting story. I like it.

  • In "Property" an academic couple move from one rented house to another, across continents. The wife has an accident and is hospitalised - "Someone had put her glasses on her face so that she would look more herself. A nurse came in hourly to straighten them. They did this as though her glasses were the masterpiece and all of Pamela the gallery wall" (p.23). After she dies, he moves to a rented house whose conditions cause problems between him and the female landlord. Does he have the right to change anything?
  • "Some Terpichore" (in numbered sections) begins with "There's a handsaw hanging on the wall of my living room, a house key from a giant's pocket ... if you took it down you'd see the ghost of the saw behind. Or - no, not the ghost, because the blue wallpaper would be dark where the saw had protected it from the sun. Ghosts are pale. So the room is the ghost. The saw is the only thing that's real". Forty years before, the narrator's voice was compared to that of a saw by a saw-player. The story charts their awkward relationship.
  • "Juliet" - from the librarians' point-of-view we learn that a regular library visitor (the sort who come for chats) is murdered by another librarian user.
  • "The House of Two Three-Legged Dogs" - too long. The worst story so far.
  • "Hungry" - A grandmother's looking after her overweight grand-daughter Lisa while her son's in a distant hospital after a heart attack. She receives a call saying that her son's brain-dead, but she told not to mention it to Lisa because Lisa's mother wants to break the news eventually.
  • "The Lost and Found Department of Greater Boston" - a mother deserts her 17 y.o. son and her father without warning. Months later the son's caught shop-lifting by a kind shop-manager. A kind policeman takes him home and discovers the grandfather dead in his bed. The shop-manager (divorced, but still in love) puts up Missing Person posters, goes to a Missing Person support group. When, after a decade, he hears that the boy's returning to live in the house "He had a sudden feeling of waking up in a hospital and knowing how bad your condition was by looking at your ward mates" (p.141). Other people have put missing posters up, many of them not serious. I liked the story.
  • "Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey" - Peter (an economics prof) is dying, so her wife called Ian, with whom he'd had a life-long feud, to arrange a meeting. Peter's goes to Ian's house. Ian has 4 kids. Peter chats to the young ones. Ian never turns up. He's showing the eponymous film to a club. It's an old, cult "road movie" Ian made of the 2 of them, edited to make Peter look brashly bad.
  • "Thunderstruck" - Wes and Laura, living in States, have a daughters Kit (7) and Helen (12). Helen gets into trouble sniffing Nitrous Oxide. They decide to spend the summer in Paris. Helen seems reformed, but Wes receives a phonecall one night saying that Helen's had a serious accident. With Kit's connivance she'd been sneaked out at night. Laura and Kit return to the States leaving Wes to see how serious the brain damage is. Recovery is slow. Without meaning to, Wes makes Laura think Helen's recovering enough to paint.

Other reviews

  • Sylvia Brownrigg (As other characters do elsewhere in this book, the mother in “Something Amazing,” Joyce Goodby, finds comfort arriving in the form of another person, someone broken for different reasons)
  • Carol Birch (The highlight of the collection is "Something Amazing")
  • Stuart Evers
  • Kirkus reviews
  • Aaron Teel (The long title story that concludes this transcendent collection is a profound distillation of all of the darkness and worry that winds through the previous eight)
  • Diane Leech
  • Clea Simon
  • Karolina Waclawiak

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