By Fernando Silva
Tabloid Dreams is a collection of stories written by award winning author Robert Olen Butler first published in Oct. 15, 1997. Butler has a good number of previously published titles under his belt, a few of which being the Pulitzer Prize winning short story collection A Good Scent on Strange Mountain and novels such as Sun Dogs and Wabash. Butler’s style of writing is that of magical realism, a style which is as it is named, magical.
With a name like that, you’ll be getting something similar to your expectations: a-true-to-life setup followed by mystical or outlandish events. One my personal favorites in the collection is “Doomsday Meteor Is Coming” in which protagonist Linus learns of a possible earth-ending event, and must now worry himself not only with the possibility of the end of life as he knows it, but also has to deal with his girlfriend Janis’ desire to “get [her] left nipple pierced, the one over my heart.”
What really stuck out to me in my reading of the a few of his stories was the author’s ability to get across the “weirdness” of talking. Now, I don’t simply mean this in the sense that some people just have a strange way of talking, but that the characters the author writes don’t think the same, cookie-cutter way. Linus from “Doomsday Meteor Is Coming”, a young man wondering about piercing his nipple, has a different manner of going about his daily routine, thinking briefly on the events going on around him and doing so in the words of your average guy, and Gertie from “Woman Loses Cookie Bake-Off, Sets self on Fire” is an older woman, close to the end of her life (by self-immolation) who is thinking clearly on the past and events that have brought her to the point she’s at thoroughly. While the thought may seem simple to you in a “yeah, not everyone talks or thinks the same way, that’s obvious” way, it’s not simple to get a hold of it, but Butler does so rather well.
Coming off what he did well, there was one major flaw I saw in this book, and that was that the book simply not being a particularly great example of the genre of magical realism. I don’t mean this in the sense that the book is written poorly, but more that it isn’t particularly out there. The book has a feel similar to reading crazy outlines from online news outlets that just couldn’t be true, but the more you read on, the more you see the reality in the situation, but not really any of the magic. I can understand this more likely than not is the intention, but don’t come to the collection expecting something like Borges.
In the end, I’d say this book is a great read for anyone looking for stories written by an author who really knows how to go “out there” in his plots and has distinct, well portrayed characters throughout.
By Esmeralda Pineda
Lydia Davis, an American writer, brings upon a collection of short stories known as Can’t and Won’t. Davis was born in Massachusetts into a teaching set of parents. Her works have received recognition and have been awarded the Man Booker International Prize, the MacArthur Fellowship, and several other awards. Can’t and Won’t, published on April 8, 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, demonstrates an unusual way to bring about a collection of short stories.
The book provides a nontraditional setup of narratives. There are stories with a different layout than what most readers are used to. For example, in “Her Geography: Illinois”, Davis writes, “She knows she is in Chicago. But she does not yet realize that she is in Illinois.” Part of the style of writing is awkward, like in this example, but it could be related to a way of reading deeper into the words and looking for a hidden message. An example of reading deeper into this short story could have the reader thinking about the bigger picture of a situation or the character not connecting two things that are in common. It could go into several directions of interpretation.
One that stood out was “Short Conversation (in Airport Departure Lounge)”, reading, “Is that a new sweater?” one woman asks another, a stranger, sitting next to her. The other woman says it’s not. There is no further conversation.” There is not entirely a lot in this short story, but it ironically says a lot about people. It could be read to say people notice specific things, but not much follows that sort of conversation into great details. Also, it raises the topic of strangers making connections in any type of place. This was more a relatable story, making connections to things such as clothing items as well as people.
Seeing as how the book jumps around in a nontraditional style of narratives, the collection is diverse in the way it raises many questions after each short story. It does not have a direct answer to them, but it makes the reader think of possible paths the story may lead to. “Random” is a good term to sum up the collection. Anyone who is willing to step out of the traditional style of a reading book would enjoy Davis’s collection to find deeper meanings as well as humor.
By Cole Miller
We Live In Water, written by Jess Walter, is a collection of short stories that was published on February 12, 2013 by the publishing company Harper Perennial. Walter, who is a former National Book Award finalist and winner of the Allan Poe Award, is also the author of six novels and a nonfiction book. Titles of his other works include, Beautiful Ruins, The Financial Lives of the Poets, The Zero, Citizen Vince, Land of the Blind, Over Tumbled Graves, and Every Knee Shall Bow. Walter Lives with his wife and children in Spokane, Washington.
We Live in Water is made up of a dozen different stories that vary in length. Some last only a couple pages while others last up to twenty pages or more. Walter uses these varying lengths of stories and themes like alcoholism, drug addiction, obsession, greed, dishonestly, homelessness, familial issues, abandonment, and poverty to capture the core of human emotion and suggest to the reader that people should not be judged based on their situations. Instead, there should be a level of empathy when considering the events that lead them to where they are now.
I really enjoyed reading this collection of short stories. Walter’s humor, which has been described by Meghan Farnsworth as “dark, witty, and hewn with quiet vulgarity,” is implemented in the stories and made it an interesting read. This stood out to me in his story “Don’t Eat Cat” which he sets in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world with zombified people. While using his sense of humor to drives his writing this story tells us about human nature and American culture. He writes, “Sure, the world seems crazy now, but wouldn't it seem just as crazy if you were alive when they sacrificed peasants, when people were born into slavery… when entire races tried to wipe the other races off the plant?” He combines his message that human beings have been destructive for centuries with a comedic narrative.
This book is for anyone who wants to read about issues relating to poverty, family, and the inner struggles of individuals while enjoying a dark comedic relief. This would be good for students and teachers to read because it gives Walter’s spin on the old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover. Instead he writes, “Whole worlds exist beneath the surface of the water. And maybe you can’t see down there… but there’s a part of you that knows.”
By Matthew Marroquin
The Watch is a collection of fictional short stories created by Rick Bass. This collection was Bass’ debut into his literary career and was originally published in July of 1989. Rick Bass is Texas born and has moved around the south to the west to such states as Mississippi and Montana. He uses the places he has lived and visited as main settings in his story. His fictional writing has won him numerous awards.
The Watch is made up of 10 distinct short stories such as: “Mexico,” “The Watch,” “Redfish,” and “In Ruth’s Country.” Out of all the stories only two intertwined using the same characters in a different timeline, a different part of their lives. This happens to be the first story, “Mexico,” and the last one, “Redfish.” I enjoyed this part of the collection for it gives it a full circle type of effect, ending with the characters one started with. Another part of Bass’ writing that I enjoyed is his description. In “Mexico” the main character describes how he enjoys coming out of the pool, “the way it slips down my calves, around and behind to the insides, down over the heels, splattering.” He depicts how the waters flows off of one when getting out. Another part that uses great description to depict the setting is “In Ruth’s Country, “... we would watch the purple part of the dusk rising up out of the dry valley, moving toward us, covering the desert like a spill.” This was describing the beauty in Utah during the sunset. His time living in multiple different states must aid in his ability to so accurately describe such scenes.
Overall, I believe this collection held great depiction of scenes and description, and even some nice character development, but the stories seemed a bit too over the place for me to handle. I can see where many would enjoy this book, and you will enjoy this book if you like wild, sporadic, stories, but the conflict did not appear immediately and many of the sections within the stories felt like filler. This book has hundreds of wonderful reviews, so try it, even if I, a single reader, am not a fan.