Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On "Eeeee Eee Eeee" by Tao Lin ****

This might as well be the Tao Lin blog today, right? I promise to stop obsessing, but this guy is the freshest voice I've come across in a long while. Closest thing to him is perhaps Miranda July, but while July's material is arresting and different, Lin is the better short story writer--that is, when he's on his game. Many of his stories seem to occur in dream worlds, where anything can happen and where events are haphazard and nonsensical. Humor is abundant. At worst, his stories meander and lead nowhere. At best, they come together in some surprising way at the end that makes all the nonsense insightful. Eeeee Eee Eeee (dolphins speak) is Lin's novel and shares with his stories the same effects. Somehow, although much of it doesn't seem to go anywhere, and in the end, we're just sort of dropped off, as if we had woken in the middle of the dream, the book is compelling enough to keep one seated and at attention throughout. Perhaps it's that Lin makes bears and dolphins and hamsters and pizza delivery so utterly mysterious that we can't help but want to know what's really going on. Think Donnie Darko. Okay, think Donnie Darko without even an attempt at the end to make sense of all of it. Think Darko's crazier moments strung together in interesting ways.

On "Love Is a Thing on Sale for More Money Than There Exists" by Tao Lin (4796 words) *****

This is the story that launched my interest in Tao Lin. It is one of his best, but it is also in some ways typical of most of his fiction, which is often similarly lengthily titled. Many of his stories, as does this one, begin by addressing a large macrocosmic issue--this is how it is in the United States on this date, and so on. And then, the story shifts into personal gear, telling readers about one or two specific people amid all of these events. But what makes the stories more than just refresher courses in current affairs is that the events are almost always taken to the point of absurdity. Here, we get terrorists--something that certainly hits the news each day. But the obsession is carried to the point of absurdity--concerns, for example, that terrorists might open stores and sell bad things. Meanwhile, two people struggle through their relationship. It's the latter part that is the heart of the story, but its the context that gives the story its zaniness and zest. Read the story here at one of Lin's blogs.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On "Song and Dance" by Mark Lafferty (8366 words) *****

The rather mundane title aside (but a lot of great stories have mundane titles), this may be the best online story from 2007. Certainly, it was the best online story that I read. The story is one of a paraplegic teen, not exactly the most uplifting of topics. And Lafferty does a great job of milking this sad situation for all the sadness one could get from it, but he does it in such a way that it doesn't seem sentimental or sappy. It's just sad. The way Lafferty manages to do this may be in the details, how he gives you the nitty-gritty everyday reality of someone who must rely on others for virtually everything, including cleaning up after, well, bodily functions most of us take for granted. As would be expected, moments of possible mild hope occur--and are dashed, perhaps tragically, or perhaps like one would have to expect. Read the story here at the Mississippi Review.

What This Blog Is

Don't look for frills here. I'm just looking to share some of the great short stories that I find online, as well as short summations and reviews of what books I'm reading (some nonfiction, some novels, some story collections). If you're into the stories too (or even if you're not and want to vent), let me know your thoughts.

On "Bed" by Tao Lin ****

Just finished reading this book today. Having read it in four day, I found it a nice break after a long and eventually tedious diary that I finished reading last week. Bed consists of nine short stories by a at-the-time-of-its-publication twenty-three-year-old. I am a bit jealous but mostly amazed. I couldn't write that well at twenty-three, and I probably don't write as well even now (well over a decade later). About three of the nine stories in the collection were exceptional, including the first two; a couple were good; and the other four, well, I'm willing to dismiss them on account of the other stories (few story collections are consistently good, and even fewer have so many memorable stories). Lin has a style and voice that is unlike any other, writes dialogue that is crisp and surprising and metaphors that rarely fail to amuse. One of the best stories--the reason I'd discovered the collection--I'd read online a few months ago, about some guy breaking up with his girlfriend amid new terrorist scares. Another really good one, and seemingly the best on this read through the collection, was about a family in which all but one member died in pretty short order. Well, at least, that's how it starts. But then it backtracks, and you get this glimpse of the family through various tribulations until one glorious moment at the end, where everyone is happy, which is what makes the story ultimately so sad, because you know the disaster that is about to infringe on this one wonderful moment to which they've arrived. Precious times. Written by a twenty-three-year-old. How did he do it? I don't know. But I'm glad he did.

On "Enough Said" by Amy Havel (600 words) *****

I love this short little piece, published recently in Failbetter, one of the best online journals I've come across. And I love Amy Havel--or at least her work. She's written pieces published in the Adirondack Review, Pindledyboz, and a number of other journals. But this is by far my favorite, the way she's able to work around a single phrase, to redefine, and to tell of an entire relationship that way. Reminds me a little of Rick Moody's "The Boys." Read Havel's story here.