Tag: short stories

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees  by Viet Thanh NguyenThe Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Published by Grove Press on February, 7, 2017
Genres: Short Stories
Pages: 224
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
five-stars

With the coruscating gaze that informed The Sympathizer, in The Refugees Viet Thanh Nguyen gives voice to lives led between two worlds, the adopted homeland and the country of birth. From a young Vietnamese refugee who suffers profound culture shock when he comes to live with two gay men in San Francisco, to a woman whose husband is suffering from dementia and starts to confuse her for a former lover, to a girl living in Ho Chi Minh City whose older half-sister comes back from America having seemingly accomplished everything she never will, the stories are a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration.

This second piece of fiction by a major new voice in American letters, The Refugees is a beautifully written and sharply observed book about the aspirations of those who leave one country for another, and the relationships and desires for self-fulfillment that define our lives.

Wow this collection made me think and get even more fascinated about those who left Vietnam and came to the United States to resettle. Some stories didn’t resonate with me as much as others did. The stories flowed together well though I thought.

“Black-Eyed Women” (5 stars)- a woman with a career as a ghostwriter finds herself laying some ghosts to rest. Her heartbreaking story of her and her family fleeing for a better life in America will gut you when you get to the end and read about how entwined she is with her mother.

“The Other Man” (5 stars)- a man who resettles in the US in the 1970s finds himself on uncharted territory when he ends up being sponsored by two gay men in San Francisco.

“War Years” (5 stars)- a young boy recounts a story about a widowed woman from Vietnam demanding money from his family in order to fight the Communists. The story helps him see his mother and father in a new light. I honestly thought the story was going in a different direction until I got to the end and you end up feeling pity.

“The Transplant” (4 stars)- A man named Arthur Arellano who has a liver transplant. This causes him to look for the man’s family. This causes him to look at his family in a different way when he finally meets the son of his transplant donor. I was enjoying this until the end, when I think that Nguyen maybe wanted you to feel sorry for poor put upon Arthur. I was kind of over this guy though when you realize how self absorbed he is.

“I’d Love You to Want Me” (5 stars)- A woman who is struggling with her husband’s onset of Alzheimer’s. Mrs. Khanh’s story was probably my next favorite after Black-Eyed Women. Her realizing that her husband had a life she didn’t know and how she really doesn’t care for her oldest son. You get to see Mrs. Khanh slowly giving up on her dreams when she starts to think about what does love really mean. In her mind, it’s being devoted.

“The Americans” (5 stars)- James Carver, an African American former Air Force pilot (I think) goes back to Vietnam with his Japanese wife to visit their daughter who is there teaching. Lord, his daughter was exhausting. There’s a scene when she yells at her father for what he did while running missions in the country. And sigh, nope, no sympathy for Claire. I did love though James going through his struggles in his career and life and him being pretty baffled by his daughter and what she wants from him. Loved the ending a lot though.

“Someone Else Besides You” (3 stars)- My least favorite. A man going through his family’s history and why he wasn’t ready to have children with his ex wife. The father in this story was odd to me. I don’t know what his purpose was besides to criticize the son. The story takes an odd turn after some vandalism.

“Fatherland” (5 stars)-Really enjoyed this one. A woman named Phuong is excited to meet her half sister who has lived in America, that comes back to Vietnam to visit her, and the rest of the family. The story set up (Phuong’s sister Vivien) was raised with her two other siblings in America and her mother divorced their father. The father marries his mistress and has three other children he names after the first set (yeah that happened). What I loved was Phuong coming to realization about her father and her half sister.

five-stars

Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay

Difficult Women by Roxanne GayDifficult Women by Roxanne Gay
Published by Grove Press on January 3rd 2017
Genres: Short Stories
Pages: 260
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
four-stars

Award-winning author and powerhouse talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with An Untamed State—which earned rave reviews and was selected as one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, NPR, the Boston Globe, and Kirkus—and her New York Times bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial). Gay returns with Difficult Women, a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

I honestly didn’t like some of the stories which is why I ended up giving this collection as a whole 4 stars. Gay writes extremely well though. I can honestly say that I could picture everything that she was describing in her stories. To the point a few times I had to hug myself at the end of a story. I am happy that I bought this though since I can see myself in the future re-reading some of my favorite stories, and that’s how you know you have a home-run with me that even without it being a 5 star rated book by me, I have every intention of coming back and thinking about what was written. I honestly wish that Gay would come back and revisit some of these characters in future works.

“I Will Follow You” (5 stars)-The love that a pair of sisters have for one another. This story sets the stage for the rest of the collection. I actually re-read this one twice just because I wanted to let the story live longer with me. Heartbreaking and full of hope at the same time.

“Water, All Its Weight” (3 stars)-I honestly was confused with this one. It definitely had a fairytale aspect to it. But after reading the previous story, I guess I wasn’t in the headspace for something I found to just be quirky.

“The Mark of Cain” (3 stars)-This one was weird. A woman pulled between two brothers. I honestly didn’t get why she made the choices she did. I think throughout the whole story I was just confused. I don’t know why anyone would say to themselves this is a good life. But maybe that was the lesson that Gay was trying to get across.

“Difficult Women” (5 stars)-I loved how Gay breaks down all of the cliches we have all heard before about women. Breaking things down so that you can see the woman behind the loose, frigid, and crazy. About seeing what mothers and even dead girls think about. Wonderful from beginning to end.

When a Crazy Woman is Misunderstood

It started with a phone call after a third date where she followed him home and they had sex, nothing memorable, but overall, adequate.

They had breakfast at the diner next door.

He ate eggs, scrambled soft.

She had pancakes, doused in syrup and butter.

“I can’t believe you’re a woman who eats,” he said.

“You’re a goddamned dream.

 

FLORDIA (5 stars)-Once again Gay breaks down a community of women that live in a gated community in Florida.

La Negra Blanca (4 stars)-A look at a woman who is passing as white who uses what she has body wise to pay for school. I like the story, but think adding in the customer to it made it a little too Hollywood movie for me. He was also a gross figure and the whole ending left me with chills. I maybe made sure my door was locked at the end of this story.

“Baby Arm” (2 stars)-My least favorite of all of the stories. I don’t know, I feel like this is something that I maybe once upon watched on Adult Swim at night one time. Only in anime form or something. I also started giggling remembering 30 Rock with Liz Lemon.

“North Country” (5 stars)-I loved this story from beginning to end. Reading about a woman learning to love again and a man who works his way into her heart was great. I would love to see this brought to film one day. The narrator’s story of how she ended up where she was to meet Magnus was great.

“How” (3 stars)-Eh. I think that it was just okay. I didn’t have any big takeaways from it. And I hate how the character of Hanna never did reveal what her mother had to say.

“Requiem for a Glass Heart” (2 stars)-I didn’t really care for this story much. Once again based on what went before, it was just okay.

“In the Event of My Father’s Death” (3 stars)-I hated the ending.

“Break All the Way Down” (5 stars)-Once again this story brought to film would be wonderful. I loved it. I also got why the main character was punishing herself. When the reveal comes out you will get it too.

“Bad Priest” (3 stars)-Just made me think about the Thorn Birds. Nothing Earth shattering here.

“Open Marriage” (4 stars)-The shortest of the short stories and the one that did crack me up.

“Best Features” (5 stars)-I loved Milly and sat and thought to myself how many of my friends and even me have had that thing drilled into our heads due to what is considered undesirable. I was made fun of for being light skinned and would often sit outside to make myself darker. For some African American men I am too dark, for others, not light enough, for some white men definitely too dark and for some of them they want someone dark skinned to make things more “exotic.” With Milly being heavy weight she always feels as if she has to give in anytime a man shows her interest since she knows that she is not seen as desirable like thin women are. Just loved the whole story. It really made me think.

“Bone Density” (5 stars)-The ins and outs of marriage. I am pretty happy that I am single after reading this story.

“I Am a Knife” (3 stars)-Once again I didn’t get this until almost the end. But I have to say that I got bored with reading the word knife over and over again.

“The Sacrifice of Darkness” (4.5 stars)-I liked this one though I found most of it to be odd. If you can get your head past the central premise of the story you may like it too.

“Noble Things” (4 stars)-Way too soon after the US election and Gay imagines a world in which we have another Civil War. I liked this story, but thought the ending didn’t quite get there.

“Strange Gods” (5 stars)-A powerful ending to this collection. Until you get to the reveal you don’t get what is happening with our narrator. You just know that she loves the man she’s with and is in a stream of consciousness writing tell him her beginning that he is unaware of right now.

I liked for the most part that in every story that the women/girls within it were not just white and that so many issues were brought up in this collection: rape, spousal abuse, lying, sexual needs, faith, sin, hope, I can go on. Definitely worth a read!

four-stars

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted ChiangStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Published by Small Beer Press on October 26th 2010
Genres: Sci Fi
Pages: 281
Source: Borrowed: ebook
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Ted Chiang's first published story, "Tower of Babylon," won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov's SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.

Now, collected here for the first time are all seven of this extraordinary writer's stories so far-plus an eighth story written especially for this volume.

What if men built a tower from Earth to Heaven-and broke through to Heaven's other side? What if we discovered that the fundamentals of mathematics were arbitrary and inconsistent? What if there were a science of naming things that calls life into being from inanimate matter? What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time? What if all the beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity were literally true, and the sight of sinners being swallowed into fiery pits were a routine event on city streets? These are the kinds of outrageous questions posed by the stories of Ted Chiang. Stories of your life . . . and others.

So I got this book via the library and boy was there a long wait. I think the movie “Arrival” is the main reason why this one took so long to get via Overdrive. I saw Arrival right after the elections and seriously, that was the movie I needed to see at that point. In a big theater with several hundred people getting to watch this amazing story that really showcases why words and language are so important. The visuals were great, so was the music, and the ending left me with so many questions. Once I saw the words based on in the end credits, I made a note of the title and author and promptly went home and put in a hold request. The story based on Arrival is in this collection of works by Chiang. But so are some other stories. Some that definitely made me think and wonder. Some that also made me scratch my head. And there was one that left me feeling somewhat odd and needing to go to church soon. I do love that the overall theme though is how important words and language ultimately are to the people in these stories.

For those who are not used to my reviews based on anthologies/collections, I always give each story it’s own rating, and then the overall collection a rating.

“Tower of Babylon” (5 stars)- Who does not know about the Tower of Babylon? I really enjoyed Chiang’s look at the workers who built the tower, and what these men really wanted. They wanted to be in the presence of the Creator and wanted to reach the vault of heaven. You actually feel a little sorry for the characters you meet, because you as the reader know how this story is going to end. However, the ending to this one does not follow the Biblical story. It ends up leaving you with a reminder about those who go in search of the divine.  I absolutely loved the description of this epic tower. The people who lived within it, and what the sun, moon, and stars looked like from the top of the tower.

Image result for the tower of babylon gif

“Understand” (5 stars)-This was more science fiction that most of the other stories. Reading about how a man is given an injection that ends up boosting his intelligence is a trope in many movies/books (Flowers for Algernon anyone?) but Chiang goes a step further showing how this man ultimately starts to believe he is above other humans and goes about seeing hat he can do to ultimately be rid of them. There’s just a small flaw in his plan. He may not be the only one out there just like him. The ending was pretty smart I thought.

“Division by Zero” (3.5 stars)- I really didn’t get this one at all. Probably because I have loathed math most of my life and I still have bad flashbacks to Algebra II and Calculus I courses. I didn’t get what was going on with the mathematical theorem in this one, or why the one character was slowly becoming undone by it. It didn’t help that we were going back and forth between two characters this whole story who I was flabbergasted to see were more close than I thought until the end. I don’t know, the ending was odd and I maybe went huh a few times.  Okay a lot.

“Story of Your Life” (5 stars)-This is the story that Arrival was based on. I really enjoyed more in depth information that we got in the book. And I finally understood a few things that had me wondering from the movie. This set-up makes better sense than the movie version. Only because there’s a minor issue with us seeing Amy Adams character teaching others the new alien language, though the book shows that maybe only two characters can read and understand the language. And the story leaves you with a question about divine will and what you would do if you knew you could alter something, and what if you did alter something but things stayed the same, because if something is supposed to happen, won’t it still happen? This is definitely a story that will have you thinking about fate, the meaning of life, and just a ton of other thoughts meant for 3 a.m. when you can’t sleep.

Image result for arrival the movie gifs

“Seventy-Two Letters” (2 stars)-The X-Files did it better. Yeah I said it. Reading about a golem, some weird science fiction explanation that had me scratching my head, and this taking place I think in Victorian times (or another Victorian timeline from our understanding of it) just had me confused.

Image result for the golem x files gif

“The Evolution of Human Science” (2 stars)- I really don’t get what this was supposed to be. It was so short compared to the other stories and pretty much walks you through how there are metahumans and humans and humans should not be worried about being wiped out because of metahumans. I started humming the X-Men cartoon series theme song while reading this.

“Hell is the Absence of God” (5 stars)-This one was fairly long and I loved the idea about it. I take it based on the author notes at the end that Chiang meant this to be a more modern look at Job. And I definitely loved it from beginning to end. I also kind of love a world where angels just randomly appear and people believe in blessings, or some don’t, and the question of salvation and devotion comes up a lot. I was discussing this story with one of my friends who is very devout and he loved the whole story-line. I think I may have caused him to go find this collection because he thought all of the stories sounded interesting.

“Liking What You See: A Documentary” (5 stars) This should seriously be a Black Mirror episode. If I hadn’t binge watched the most reason season I probably would not have thought that, but seriously, this short story would be pretty cool to see on screen. The idea that people have the ability to have something called a calli turned on and off. Calli allows you through something called Spex to view people as if they had cosmetic surgery. In people’s minds, if everyone is equally beautiful this would lead to a utopia since no one would be discriminated against for not being beautiful or having perfect features. This whole thing is messed up and I adored every second of it. I think an article I read a few years ago talked about this about how people are more apt to think a beautiful person is telling the truth than those who are not deemed beautiful. I distrust most people until I know them better, and have had grown men and women look me in the eye and lie to me (and yeah I knew it, sometimes I love my job, other times I just sigh) so I think that depending on your job, beauty doesn’t factor into it much. I tend to look at body language a lot when talking to anyone in order to determine if someone is not being truthful. Anyway, this documentary style story was great. You get to follow several characters and follow a proposal that would enforce all kids who attend one college to always have calli due to many thinking lookism causing a lot of problems in the world.

four-half-stars

A Christmas Story: The Book That Inspired the Hilarious Classic Film by Jean Shepherd

A Christmas Story: The Book That Inspired the Hilarious Classic Film by Jean ShepherdA Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd
Published by Broadway Books on January 1st 1983
Genres: Humor, Holiday, Nonfiction, Short Stories
Pages: 156
Source: Borrowed: ebook
Goodreads
three-half-stars

The holiday film A Christmas Story, first released in 1983, has become a bona fide Christmas perennial, gaining in stature and fame with each succeeding year. Its affectionate, wacky, and wryly realistic portrayal of an American family’s typical Christmas joys and travails in small-town Depression-era Indiana has entered our imagination and our hearts with a force equal to It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.

This edition of A Christmas Story gathers together in one hilarious volume the gems of autobiographical humor that Jean Shepherd drew upon to create this enduring film. Here is young Ralphie Parker’s shocking discovery that his decoder ring is really a device to promote Ovaltine; his mother and father’s pitched battle over the fate of a lascivious leg lamp; the unleashed and unnerving savagery of Ralphie’s duel in the show with the odious bullies Scut Farkas and Grover Dill; and, most crucially, Ralphie’s unstoppable campaign to get Santa—or anyone else—to give him a Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle. Who cares that the whole adult world is telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”?

The pieces that comprise A Christmas Story, previously published in the larger collections In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, coalesce in a magical fashion to become an irresistible piece of Americana, quite the equal of the film in its ability to warm the heart and tickle the funny bone.

Who hasn’t seen “A Christmas Story?” I have been watching this movie since I was 6 years old and it’s been a holiday tradition in my family that every year we watch this. Heck, I am not going home this year, but my brothers, sister, and I are still going to watch it and group chat. My favorite scene hands down is always watching how proud the Old Man was watching Ralphie playing with his BB gun that he wanted for Christmas.

Reading the book that inspired the film I can say that I was a bit disappointed with the structure. Since I am so familiar with the movie and can quote that thing off the top of my head, the book only really focuses on Christmas for one part of the book. The other parts occur at different times of the year, and I thought the last part focusing on the Bumpus’s family was off-putting and pretty gross in parts.

The book starts off introducing the book and tying it into the movie that many readers may know about. From there it goes into the quest for the Red Ryder BB Gun. There are course are many of the same scenes in the movie so we have the whole “you’ll shoot your eye out.” and even the same admonishments from his teacher and Santa Claus, however, he still gets his gift, the day before Christmas. Apparently in this household, Christmas Eve was when all of the presents were opened by this family, with Christmas Day all of the other relatives showing up to provide gifts. We also do get that scene were he almost did shoot his eye out, but lied to his mother about what happened and got away from it. I found parts of this story sweet and found myself smiling throughout.

We are provided other details about the terrible Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, The Old Man and his special award, his fight with a bully named Grover Dill, and how much the family hated it when a clan of hillbillies (the books words) called Bumpus moved in next door. I am really surprised with how well the movie/screenplay was since the movie intertwines everything quite beautifully. The book jumped around a lot and maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I did not have the movie playing in my head as background while reading.

I thought the writing hit the right level of nostalgia for childhood things like snow storms, being warm in the house, and love of Christmas and Santa Claus. After that though, we get Shephard’s comments on marriage (his parents) and how they work. I thought looking at the major award section and how his father and mother quietly dueled over the lamp that my mother would have outlawed in our home too was pretty funny. However, unlike with the movie, this causes a three day freeze between his mother and father, before his father finally breaks the silence and everyone goes to the movies afterwards.

Image result for a christmas story gifs

The flow didn’t really work though in this one I have to say. I think it’s because we have Shepard using a present incident (like the woman who was screeching about the terrible toy industry to him as an adult) to recall his childhood affection for his Red Ryder BB Gun. We get another off segue when Shepard does his best to hit on some woman (sounds like this took place during the 1960s) and is thwarted by her female lover which leads to him talking about his parents struggle over a lamp.

The setting of the book takes place in Indiana during The Great Depression. I didn’t really get a sense that the family was struggling, which is weird, cause my grandmother before she passed away still was all about never throwing out food and keeping everything she had ever been given because she always had a fear about running out of food or needing clothes and blankets. She also passed this along to my mother who was a pack rat and this is why if any of you ever visit my home you will see how minimalist I am. I do a yearly purge because I still dream of rooms filled with old blankets that scratch and smelled, but we had to put on our beds every winter because they were still good.

Shepherd does a great job though with describing his neighborhood and the times of the day and how everyone was crazy for prizes in newspapers along with listening to the radio every night.

The ending was a bit of a letdown though. The book abruptly ends and I thought it needed an epilogue or something included since you feel like another story is just waiting to be told.

three-half-stars

The Birds or Why I Now Side Eye Pigeons

The Birds or Why I Now Side Eye PigeonsThe Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier
Published by Brown and Company on January 1, 1952
Genres: Classics - by women, Gothic, Mystery
Pages: 256
Source: Borrowed: ebook
Goodreads
four-stars

A classic of alienation and horror, The Birds was immortalised by Hitchcock in his celebrated film. The five other chilling stories in this collection echo a sense of dislocation and mock man's dominance over the natural world. The mountain paradise of 'Monte Verità' promises immortality, but at a terrible price; a neglected wife haunts her husband in the form of an apple tree; a professional photographer steps out from behind the camera and into his subject's life; a date with a cinema usherette leads to a walk in the cemetery; and a jealous father finds a remedy when three's a crowd . . .

Image result for the birds gif

 

Nope, nope, nope. Nope. How many nopes is that? Anyway, nope. Seriously though, you have to hand to Daphne du Maurier, she definitely knows how to tell a story. And in this case, several stories. I read another one of her anthologies this year and thought what a great weaver of tales she was.

There are six stories in this collection and they pack a punch, but my favorites hands down were “The Birds”, “The Apple Tree”, and “The Old Man.”

The Birds (5 stars)-Unlike the Alfred Hitchcock movie that many are familiar with. This story is actually a lot more dark (yeah who knew that you could go darker?) than the movie I think. The story revolves around a family living on their farm where the father realizes that something odd is going on with the birds. And once it becomes apparent that people may be under attack, he does what he can to keep them safe.

Monte Verita (3.5 stars)-Oh boy. This was endless. And not in a good way. It started off oddly and then it smoothed out, and then I was bored and wanting the book to end as fast as possible.  A narrator describes a place called Monte Verita and wondering if it still exists. We realize he is in his dotage and then the story reverses itself to talk about how the narrator and one of his best friends loved to climb mountains. I really thought what he was describing in this story was hiking, but what do I know. The most camping I do these days is sitting outside on my patio drinking wine.

Image result for drinking wine gif

Then the story changes again to how his best friend meets a gorgeous mysterious woman who he marries (are they always not gorgeous and mysterious?) As I said the story was endless and for me I did not really get much about this supposed calling. The ending to this story made me just roll my eyes. I think I was supposed to be taking away something bigger than what I got here, but I just don’t know what it was.

The Apple Tree (5 stars)-What a sad story from beginning to end. You honestly think the story is going one way, but then it twists and re-twists itself.  We find a widowed man who is now pretty content since he is retired and his wife is now dead. Don’t worry readers, he didn’t kill her physically. But you start to read more and more of the story and you realize there are other ways in which you can kill the spirit of someone you claim to love. I do not want to give too much away except to say I chuckled at the ending. Which probably means I am a dark person, but I am okay with that.

Image result for a dying apple tree gif

The Little Photographer (4 stars)-At first I was a bit bored by this story. And then it starts picking up steam. A woman away on vacation with her two small children and her nanny starts to think that even though she may have everything that she could want wealth wise, it still may be a chance to see what else is out there for her when she realizes she is not as fulfilled as she could be. Thinking that a quick affair can cure what ails her leads her down a dark path.

Kiss Me Again, Stranger (3 stars)-A young man who finds himself in love at first sight though I would say he may need to have his eyes checked based on all of the red flags I was seeing. This one ended a bit too abruptly for me. And honestly I was still confused about the whole thing. I guess this was more of a cautionary tale about falling in love with people without knowing a thing about them.

The Old Man (5 stars)-I maybe sort of screamed at the ending and said what a few times and went back and re-read it with the ending in mind. I refuse to give anymore details on this one except I was totally floored.

An overall review of 4 stars since I really only loved three of the stories.

 

four-stars

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