December 16, 2008

Book Review: One Hundred and Forty Five Stories in a Small Box

McSweeney's has released a box set of short stories by three of the McSweeneyest writers around. Sarah Manguso, Dave Eggers, and Deb Olin Unferth gather their shortest of short stories for this hodgepodge collection. I like to think I'm usually ahead of the curve with all things hip and McSweeney. But I had no idea this had existed until I received it as a birthday gift. I'm glad I did.

Sarah Manguso's Hard To Admit And Harder to Escape is brimming with one page ellipses of a life ranging from bittersweet childhood trials to drunken adulthood escapades. As a whole Hard to Admit reminds us that it's the mundane, insignificant moments in life that seem to forever haunt our memories. I would support this with highlights from the book but the stories being title-less I would be forced into writing such things as: "This one story about a gerbil..." or "This other one was about the guy taking off his wedding ring..." (Both in the book). I don't want to have to do that. So, moving on...

How The Water Feels To The Fishes
is not unfamiliar territory for Dave Eggers who has taken upon himself to re-educate America on the art of the short story. Dave himself writes them rather well. His stories are exponentially longer than Sarah's, two to three pages in this collection, and Fishes seeks to question conventional inner thought and tries to illuminate paths that were not seen before. Pretty grandiose for such a tiny collection, tiny even for short story anthologies. In his book Eggers changes the points of view in the stories from men to women, old to young and in doing so, he asks readers to do the same within themselves. A highlight for me is "Old Enough" which tells of a young man who longs to be much older so he can finally be the man he has always wanted to become (Don't read to much into that).

As the first two books assume very little, Deb Olin Unferth 's Minor Robberies assumes that it's speaking to an educated audience. The stories are longer, the book is the thickest of the three, and she writes with a knowing wink and a nod to the story's characters, to the reader, to herself. Like a good movie that's just twenty minutes too long, a couple of the stories in Minor seem rather lost and end up plain fizzling. Although there is more good ones than fizzliy ones in her book. "The Present of Concern" is a jealously written story of envy and embarrassment that any woman could relate to ( Or I would guess, I don't really know, and I'm not arrogant enough to think I know what it's like to be a woman, just to be clear).

If that isn't enough to convince you to buy the set, it comes in a really nifty illustrated and gold leafed box to hold them all in. It is so cool looking altogether, that if you were to place the box on your coffee table or mantle, guests would come into your home, see it and be forced to ask themselves: "Am I awesome enough to be in this person's home?"
The McSweeney's Box Set will coolly answer for them: No, no you're not.

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