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.

Saturday 23 September 2023

"The Best of McSweeney's Volume 2" by Dave Eggers (ed) (Penguin 2005)

  • "The ceiling" (Kevin Brockmeier) - the sky slowly drops like a lid
  • "Civilization" (Ryan Boudinot) - it's the duty of children to kill their parents. There are standard procedures
  • "The Kauders case" (Aleksander Hemon) - In Sarajevo, 1980s, a boy goes to a wild, wacky, Nazi-themed party. He's questioned after. For years it's famous. A little later he reads on a little radio station some episodes of a fake documentary about someone call Kauders. Even years later, people ask "Did Kauders really exist?" On the last page it says "Kauders really did exist for a flicker of a moment, like those subatomic particles in the nuclear accelerator in Switzerland, just not long enough for his existence to be recorded ... a consequence of reaching the critical mass of collective delusion ... My Kauders project was an attempt to regain reality ... After finding myself on the wrong side of the mirror, I threw Kauders back into it, hoping to break it"
  • "Notes from a bunker about Highway 8" (Gabe Hudson) - A US soldier, holed up in a Desert Storm underground bunker with chimps (a bio test lab?) and a friend whose arm has been blown off, has a vet father who has noisily come out, and is anti-war. 60 pages, but only a little too long.
  • "The tears of Squonk, and what happened thereafter" (Glen David Gold) - In 1916 an elephant from a touring circus kills someone. The resulting hanging was watched by 2,000 people at $2 a time. Turns out that the elephant had killed before, her accomplice being Squonk the clown - revenge for incidents on safari. It's presented like a documentary, but was it all an urban myth?
  • "No justice, no foul" (Jim Stallard) - The conceit is that Supreme Court stalemates were resolved by the judges playing basketball. A few famous cases are looked it, with diagrams showing the plays.
  • "Flush" (Judy Budnitz) - 2 daughters take turns to visit parents (the 3rd is dead?) They each (without telling the other) substitute for her at her mammogram appoitment because she frets so much. But a test comes back true.
  • "Saint Chola" (K. Kvashay-Boyle) - A 12 y.o. Moslem girl at a US school during the Saddam-Bush crisis has her first period and is asked by her mother whether she was to wear the hijab. When she does, she begins to be bullied. A big bad girl, Chola, offers to attack the bullies if the 12 y.o. points them out. The girl doesn't think fighting ever helps, but she points the boys out to the big girl anyway.
  • "God lives in St Petersburg" (Tom Bissell) - Tim, a 24 y.o. missionary disguised as an English teacher n Uzbekistan, is having secret sex with a younger man. He protects a 14 y.o. pretty Russian girl who's accused of cheating. The girl's mother comes in to thank him, asking him to marry her daughter and take her back to the States. The girl later appears in his room and strips.
  • "The woman who sold communion" (Kate Braverman) - Amy (Amethyst) is denied university tenure. She drives through Arizona to see her 52 y.o. ex-hippy mother. She's hitting the vodka. "Amy half-expects the afternoon to dissolve into a car commercial". The new america "was the world of the shrinking dollar and the failure of words. It was about having one good weekend."
  • "Red ant house" (Ann Cummins) - The poor family of Teresa, a dwarf girl, have just moved near Leigh, the narrator. Leigh has 5 siblings and a pregnant, loose-tongued mother. Leigh's mother says that a man pays for young girls to appear naked at his house. Leigh and Teresa try it, but they are seen by friends of Leigh's parents.
  • "The Nista affair" (Jonathan Ames) - In 1987 the narrator gets a book contract on the condition that his submitted novella is expanded to a novel in 6 months. A few weeks later he discovers he has a 15 month old son. 2 chapters of his book are stolen. 4 months later he binges and ends up in a psychiatric hospital. We learn all this in the first half page and are promised details. So, back we go to the start. Jonathan has writer's block. Julie, a 40-ish daughter of a famous author, chats him up. They visit her father, who likes him. He gets nuisance calls and falls for a hoax. He is put into a hospital and not allowed out until he agrees to having Lithium. He doesn't. He discovers that Julia is hoaxing him. He gets out, and finishes the novel. 15 years later we learn that he helped raise him child, and that Julia sold a book to his publisher.
  • "K is for Fake" (Joonathan Lethem) - K is phoned to say he's accused (of incompleteness, etc). A waif leads him to an advert actor who says they must prepare a defense. There are various allusions to Kafka's works.
  • "Banvard's folly" (Paul Collins) - A documentary about John Banvard. Interesting.
  • "The man from out of town" (Sheila Heti) - A newcomer wants a girl. Gets one. Loses her. Gets another. Loses her after quite a while. Then attacks another. I don't think I get it.
  • "Do not disturb" (A.M. Homes) - A man and his 38 y.o. doctor wife aren't getting on well. She feels ill, goes into ER, has overian cancer. A quick op + chemo. She'd wanted a child. Friends had expected her to be less challenging because of her illness, but no. A female friend whose partner has just left her offers the man sex. The husband and bald wife go to Paris. She (perhaps not just for his sake) suggests separation. He prepares to leave her in Paris, but something stops him.

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