By Olivia Wieseler
Sour Heart (2017) by Jenny Zhang is a collection of short stories about the lives of immigrant children in the United States. Having immigrated to New York City from Shanghai, China, when she was five years old, Zhang often writes about Chinese American identity and coming of age in a new country and culture. Her stories in Sour Heart are no exception.
Each story in this collection is from the point of view of a different Chinese American immigrant child. While the stories reflected much of the hardship that Chinese American immigrants had to go through searching for a better life, some stories did not focus on that but rather themes that all people go through: peer pressure, sex education, going to college, annoying siblings, over-protective parents, desire for freedom, and more. I think these themes interwoven with the theme of immigrant identity help make each character more human and help the reader to empathize with the characters and their hardships as immigrants to America.
While Zhang uses almost a different narrative structure for each story, they are all draped in poetic language. The powerful imagery Zhang used was often organized like a stream-of-consciousness. Her first story in the collection, “We love you, Crispina,” had the most prevalent use of this style. While unique and perhaps more realistic, it did make the stories somewhat difficult to follow at times. Overall, however, this style works to give the reader a sense of putting him/herself in the shoes of the narrator. One of my favorite parts about the structure of the collection overall is that each story is interwoven with each other, barely noticeably, as the families encounter one another briefly in their search to make their lives better in America.
Personally, it wasn’t until about halfway in that I started to enjoy the collection. It could have been because of the slightly difficult following of the stream-of-consciousness style of writing or some of the unexpected mature content. However, it finally started growing on me, possibly because “The Evolution of My Brother” struck my heart personally. The narrator showed how her tight bond with her much younger brother began to loosen as her desire for freedom and independence sent her away to college:
“…and now that I am on my own, the days of resenting my parentes for loving me too much and my brother for needing me too intensely have been replaced with the days of feeling bewildered by the prospect of finding some other identity besides ‘daughter’ or ‘sister.’”
I would recommend this collection of stories to get a taste of Chinese American immigration stories while still being able to relate and empathize because of the coming of age themes throughout each story.
Zhang has also published a collection of poems called Dear Jenny, We Are All Find, a non-fiction book called Hags, and has written a plethora of essays for Rookie, an online magazine for teens.
By Jhareese Walker
Tim Gautreaux is a novelist and short story writer who was born in 1947 in Morgan City, Louisiana. Some of his published books are: The Missing, The Clearing, and Welding with Children. In an interview with Dayne Sherman, An American journalist, Gautreaux said, “I just learned along the way that writing comes from living. Living doesn’t come from writing. The best way to learn how to write about children is to have a couple of your own” (Sherman). Gautreaux exemplifies this mindset in his book Welding with Children published by Picador in 1999. Welding with Children is a collection of eleven short stories that have a common theme of portraying the lifestyle of a southern working-class families.
There were a few stories that really intrigued me, but there was one story in particular that stood out to me more than the others. The short story “Welding with Children” is a great story simply due to the self-realization the main character experiences throughout the story. Bruton, the grandfather in the story, serves as his own life lesson. By watching the four children of his own children, he finds himself in need of some self-improvement once he notices that the actions of the children are the product of their parents’ standards. By the end of the story, Bruton attempts to turn the children to God: “’Does your mamma ever talk to y’all about, you know, God?’ ‘My mamma says God when she’s cussing Melvin,’ Tamynette said.” (Gautreaux 8). While not having done the greatest job of raising his own children, he wants to do better by his grandchildren. A few things that I like about the text was the southern dialect that Gautreaux included within the story. He seems to include a little of himself and his heritage throughout the whole text. Also, in another short story called “Easy Pickings”, Gautreaux writes about an old lady who gets robbed by a man that goes by the name of Big Blade:
Big Blade growled, giving the old woman a push toward her screen door. ‘I want your money’…’Well, I be damn. Ain’t you got nobody better to rob than an ol’ lady whose husband died twenty-nine years ago of a heart attack in a bourrée game holding ace, king, queen of trumps?’” (Gautreaux 63).
Many of the stories in his collection are unique scenarios which make each story fun to read. Many people might enjoy this text because each story can be fun to read even for the students that don’t usually like reading. Each storyline in the collection is unique which instantly can draw the reader to the story. Not only can it be fun to read, but there are life lessons that can be taken from each of these stories. Being able to read a text that is fun, yet possesses the capabilities to be informative, is special and is not something that every book can do.
By Kayla Vetter
I normally never read horror/sci-fi books. I’m terrified of them actually. So, Get in Trouble was a very interesting read for me. I ended up finding it quite enjoyable. Kelly Link really has a gift for writing about modern day lives twisted into a sci-fi magic filled world. Each story is filled with a different subject matter all relating to broken love, magic, and paranormal activity in some form. In each story, the reader goes on an adventure. A unique adventure.
Kelly Link has written may books over the years. Get in Trouble is her newest book, written in 2016. The collection of stories are pieces from other books put together into one book. Ms. Link is the cofounder of Small Beer Press. A few of her stories have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She is also the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. So, she’s kind of a big deal. Her work shows that. The stories literally speak for themselves. I didn’t feel like I was reading them. I felt like I was living them! When Ms. Link isn’t conquering the world through her writing she resides in Northampton, Massachusetts with her husband and daughter.
The collection throughout this book deals with magic and journey with the main character. In her first story “The Summer People,” Link takes you on a journey with Fran. A teenager who is not permitted to leave the grounds of her town. An alcoholic father who takes off to be with Jesus. Ophelia, who is a lonely rich high society teenager and only friend to Fran. Then there are the Summer People, who are not your typical summer people. They live up the road from Fran in a unique living space, a two-story house with moss as the carpet. The Summer People have a unique trade creating magical toys for Fran. The Monkey Egg, is described as a one-of-a-kind toy with “two pincerlike legs and a scorpion tail made of figured brass shot out of the bottom hemisphere.” “The top of the hemisphere opened, and two arms wriggled out and reached up” (Link 13). The egg is magical. Fran also contains the capability to see into the future. She also processes a tent with two views, the present and the future. During Fran’s encounter with the flu, Ophelia takes on the task of getting help from the Summer People which will change her future forever.
The Summer People was probably my favorite story I read. It’s magical, visually colorful, and adventurous. The only thing I hate is the ending. The ending made me mad and had me question Fran. What kind of friend was Fran? What happened to Ophelia? Did Fran screw her over? But I’ll let you decide when you pick up the story and read it for yourself.
By Clayton Van Horn
I was assigned to read Bats Out of Hell by Barry Hannah (1978). This book is just under 400 pages and is filled to the top with ridiculous humor; at least it was humor in my eyes. Barry Hannah has written many works that precede this collection of short stories. Those works include Airplanes, which many would say is beneficial to read before diving into Bats Out of Hell, which is exactly what I did.
I loved the work, but I must admit that I caught on to the story-telling, and humor strategy slowly. I understood the stories at the end of the collection far more fully than the stories at the beginning of the collection. This collection of short stories is a very acquired taste. They are an acquired taste in the same sense that The Office (US) is an acquired taste. It takes a season or two to understand the humor and jokes. Just like while I was reading Bats Out of Hell it took a few stories for me to fully enjoy the stories.
My favorite story was High-water Railers. And the title of this short story is hilarious when you think about what this story is about. And that goes for every story in the collection. This short story, High-Water Railers, is about two old fishermen that go fishing and talk about how they missed out on sexual experiences, and they regret their decisions that led them away from their sexual fantasies. It is quite funny to me because Barry Hannah did a great job about showing the “old man’s back in his day” type of humor. This old man theme goes for the entire short story collection. Almost every main character in the collection reminds me of the old man from Pixar’s UP, the movie about the house that can fly by balloons. And after doing some research into Barry Hannah’s other works, there is a very similar form of humor and writing throughout Hannah’s works.
By Christina Spillman
Carmen Maria Machado’s debut book was shortlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction after being published by Graywolf Press in 2017. Her Body and Other Parties is a modern, feminist take on horror and science fiction. This collection of short stories has eight pieces, each of which seems to stand alone in its own world. Each story blends a paranormal framework filled with the types of stories women feel may have been lifted directly from their lives.
Her magnum opus is her opener: “The Husband Stitch.” Machado draws inspiration for this piece of hauntingly magical realism from creepy kids’ tales, specifically one called “The Green Ribbon” which tells the story of a girl whose ribbon on her neck holds her head on. She tells a discerning and disturbing grown-up version: “‘Why do you want to hide it from me?’ 'I'm not hiding it. It just isn't yours.’” Despite loving her, and not being “evil,” the husband can’t resist wanting to see underneath the ribbon, therefore killing his wife. This story presents a lot of thematic ideas and questions that continue on throughout all the stories in the book: the autonomy of women, physical pleasure (sex, food), and morally ambiguous love.
Machado’s poetic prose weaves stories that not only call attention to morals of the individual, but modern society. She often speaks, directly or indirectly, about what is fair and unfair, especially in regard to the treatment of women in intimate relationships. She writes, “Not all of us can deal with the illumination that comes with justice.” There is often a question asked implicitly by the narrator: Can they do this to me? Should they do this to me? “Inventory” tells the stories of the narrator’s lovers as a deadly plague sweeps the USA. As the narrator watches the world die, she takes on lovers who find refuge in her home. This discussion of women taking on the good and the bad to make it better for others is obvious in these stories. One of her narrators quotes her father, saying, “You never live with a woman, you live inside of her.”
These stories are good for people simply looking for a new take on sci-fi or women looking for feminist literature. I enjoyed that much of it was metaphorical right alongside the literal words. Her stories are somewhat traditional in structure, but she has a real strength for episodic pieces ( like “Inventory” and “Especially Heinous,” which is a riff on Law and Order). Some moments may come off confusing and require re-reading, but some of the intrigue her stories provide is how open they are to interpretation. If looking for a read to make you question the text, the author, the world, or perhaps yourself, read Her Body and Other Parties.
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.
By Dalton Machholz
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a collection of short stories following a fictional narrator named Tim O’Brien before, during, and after the Vietnam War. First published in 1990 by Houghton Mifflin the book contains 22 short stories. O’Brien himself served in the Vietnam War and following his return to the United States began work as reporter and intern at the Washington Post. It was here that O’Brien began his writing career publishing other books such as Northern Lights, Going After Cacciato, and A Nuclear Age just to name a few.
The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories featuring time before, during, and after the Vietnam War. While there is no clear chronological order to these stories, each possesses a quality in them that stands alone as well as assists the others. A prime example of this are the stories “Enemies” and “Friends”. Both revolve around two men of O’Brien’s platoon who are seen fighting and then seen making up. While they complete each other, both are able to stand independently on their own. A reader can easily read one, stop, then proceed to read the other at a different time.
My favorite story, which ties the theme of the book overall, is “How to Tell a True War Story”. In this particular tale O’Brien relates what story fellow soldier “Rat” Kiley tells him during their time on a mission. During this story-telling O’Brien explores the requirements of war literature. Citing how it can’t be believable, or if you feel uplifted by it then you can’t actually believe it. While at first this message is hard to accept the story told by Kiley and for that matter this book itself reflects this one message throughout.
While I find this collection interesting due to its historical value, there are plenty of other reasons to read this nationally acclaimed book. Some may find solace in the writing style of O’Brien or perhaps the philosophy of the Vietnam war will attract others. Nonetheless this is a must-read novel for any age-group as it addresses topics that have been forgotten or lost.