Here’s an interesting thing I noticed: on the cover photo that I found for this review, the full title is Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. But my copy (the paperback version, with the bright yellow cover) reads Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales. I’m not sure why there’s a difference in the titles, but I’m glad I have the wicked version.
Since discovering Lord Peter in college, I’ve resisted the urge to race through all of his mysteries. There are only eleven, and I prefer to read them slowly, one every year or so, so they can last as long as possible. Knowing that I only have four left makes me sad, but this collection was a nice antidote – with twenty-one stories, it felt like at least three or four novels’ worth of mysteries.
“The Walk to School on the Day After Labor Day
I was sad that summer was over.
But I was happy that it was over for my enemies, too.”
Take a minute and examine your reaction to that quote, one of the shortest pieces (I can’t in good conscience call it a story) in BJ Novak’s collection of short stories. I imagine that your reaction was similar to mine when I first read it – you probably smiled a little, maybe did one of those almost-laughs where you just blow air out your nose, and thought, “Oh, that’s clever” and then immediately forgot about it.
If someone were to ask me to encapsulate Margaret Atwood’s writing style in three sentences or less, I would show them the first two lines of the first story in Bluebeard’s Egg:
“When my mother was very small, someone gave her a basket of baby chicks for Easter. They all died.”
BOOM. Welcome to Margaret Atwood, motherfuckers. You’re going to like it here. Oh, and happy Easter.
God damn it, Karen Russell.
She’s just too good at this, guys, and it’s driving me crazy. No one should be able to do what Karen Russell does – her particular brand of magical realism, where the supernatural and suburban America blend seamlessly, is like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. It just isn’t fair that all that talent got concentrated in one person.
As part of the promotional tour for this book, David Sedaris made a stop in a Barnes and Noble in my city, and I ended up going sort of by accident (I bought a copy of the book on a whim the day before the event and learned that, by purchasing the book, I had also unknowingly purchased a ticket to the reading the next day). It was a fun event – Sedaris is charming and adorable in person, and was very polite to the requisite crazy people who tend to show up at every author reading I’ve ever attended (I remember one particularly memorable woman at a Margaret Atwood reading who started out asking Atwood’s opinion about Britney Spears and her costumes throughout the years, and ended by shrieking that “What they did to Britney was A SIN! It was A SIN!” and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen). A word of advice for anyone attending a Sedaris event in the future, though: the man is chatty. There were only a few dozen people in line to get their books signed, but he stopped and talked with every single person, sometimes for almost five minutes each. It took a long fucking time, which I wasn’t expecting, so be prepared for that. By the time it was my turn, I was just tired and didn’t have anything fascinating to say, but he was very nice and asked me some polite questions as he drew an owl on my book, and then he offered me one of the chocolates that another fan had apparently made for him. I suggested jokingly that they had been poisoned, because I don’t know how to talk like a normal human being, and he just kind of blinked at me, so I thanked him, grabbed my signed book, and ran. Anyway, add that to the list of Madeline’s Awkward Author Encounters and let’s get to the real review bit. Continue reading
Like her novel The Namesake, Lahiri’s collection of short stories deals mainly with the experience of Indian immigrants in America. They often deal with a more specific experience: a young married couple moves to America shortly after being married so the husband can work at a university, and they have to navigate the new worlds of their marriage and the United States simultaneously. Being an Indian immigrant, or being the child of Indian immigrants, in America is clearly a subject close to Lahiri’s heart, and in the hands of a less skilled author, her stories about this experience would become repetitive. But Jhumpa Lahiri is a very, very skilled author, and each story in this collection looked at the same subject from a different perspective. This is multiple observations on a similar idea, and every one is beautiful and leaves you feeling like you’ve just had a really good sob: emptied-out, sad, but somehow fulfilled at the same time.