Publisher: Penguin Group Viking Press
Pub. Date: June 5, 2018
If you want a razor sharp look into the absurdities of present-day life that will force you to admit your own ego issues, then this is your book. But be prepared: some of it may be difficult to interpret. This short story collection is penned by the author A.M. Homes. Homes is known for her controversial novels and unusual short stories. She has received numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship. This is literary fiction and not a beach read. Although this genre is usually harder to read, I still enjoy it. Still, frankly, it is not the genre that makes this book difficult. It is that some of the stories are incoherent. One of my favorite authors, Roxane Gay, wrote on Goodreads, “I am a fan of Homes…This just wasn’t the collection for me.” I get Gay’s words since I loved Homes’ dark comedy, “May We Be Forgiven,” but I had trouble with this book. In fact, there are only two stories in the collection that I enjoyed: “Brother On Sunday” and “The National Cage Bird Show.”
In “Brother On Sunday” we meet two male siblings and observe their contentious relationship. One brother is single and rather obnoxious. He is the type of guy who dates women half his age to wear as arm candy. Every Sunday, this brother visits his married brother and his wife, along with the couple’s friends at the beach. However, the story is not really about the brothers, it is actually about how plastic we all have become: in our physical appearance as well as in our personalities. The married brother is a doctor who deals in vanity. Eh, you know what I mean, the sort of doctor that gives botox injections and facial fillers. The group’s beach talk is about the agony one goes through to starve oneself thin. That horrible feeling one gets when they realize that their thighs begin to dimple. And God help us all, the inevitable telltale of age: sagging of skin. In many ways, this story reminded me of the nonliterary novel, “You Think It, I’ll Say It.” By the end of “Brother,” the reader discovers that it’s not only the single brother who is obnoxious but rather all the characters are hard to like.
It is harder to follow than “Brothers,” but I did enjoy “The National Cage Bird Show,” a story told entirely through messages in a chat room for bird owners. The main protagonists are a teenage girl and a grown man who is in the army and stationed overseas. Thank goodness there is nothing sexual in their chats. The man is trying to cheer up the girl because when her mom meets her in the emergency room after she is in a car accident her mother’s first words imply that her daughter’s face is now ruined. The mother’s words pretty much sum up the book’s nods to the over-the-top importance of beauty in today’s society. But there are many other topics in this chat room, and some conversations are as sweet as they are bizarre, making me chuckle. Think a couple of old women seriously discussing the importance of which brand of bird feed one uses.
I am afraid the other ten stories lost my interest. I admit just skimming them making me wonder that if I had put in more effort I might have found something to like in the whole collection. But, most reviewers know not to waste time reading something you have lost interest in. I agree with the title of Sara Nelson’s book, “So Many Books, So Little Time.” Yet, I still encourage you to read the book because the author has once said about her books, “I write the things we don’t want to say out loud.” And, that is a very admirable trait.
I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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