Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Off the Truck: Staying and Going

Vacationland by Sarah Stonich. This is what
grabs me: “incredible talent and ability to insert humor and startling details into the narrative without disrupting the story.” Yes, that sounds good. Humor + startling details. Suggesting richness. I think of Lorrie Moore’s stories. And this book is described as linked stories, but catalogued as a novel. What happens in the space in between? How many novels could be described the same way but aren’t? How many story collections have characters that return throughout the pages? Vacationland centres around Meg, who has grown up at a Lodge in Northern Minnesota. She stays, and other people pass through. The 15 stories or chapters are titled by a single word that ends in –ion. It starts with Separation and ends with Tintinnabulation. Separation begins more literally – and startlingly – than you might expect.

Brief Encounters with the Enemy by Saïd
Sayrafiezadeh is both catalogued and described as a collection of stories. But here too, there is a pivot point: “a nameless American city and its unmoored denizens.” The cover notes that Sayrafiezadeh is the author of When Skateboards Will Be Free. That title allowed me to push past the military theme suggested by the title and cover, and investigate the book further. Inside, the stories are described as hilarious, devastating, fiercely original, universally resonant and wonderfully strange. They sound like they cover the everyday – love, work, dreams, fears. In contrast to a lot of novels, collections of stories can’t be summed up easily. Often, you just have to give them a try. But this writer seems a worthy consideration. Sayrafiezadeh has an impressive publication list – The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Granta, McSweeney’s – and he’s been compared to Denis Johnson, George Saunders and Nathan Englander.

Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your 
Life by Ulli Lust. What can I say, the dramatic title got me. Plus it’s a fat paperback graphic novel. The kind that looks like you could read it from beginning to end in a single oblivious night. Shortly after I pulled this off the truck, a woman noticed it and asked if she could take a look. She picked it up and read the title aloud, as though intrigued by it herself. But when she saw it was a graphic novel, she gave it back. It chronicles the author’s travels from Vienna to Italy in 1984 at the age of 17, without money and with an unreliable friend. Details of punk culture, hitchhiking, sex and politics fill the pages. Nominee and winner of numerous prizes, including The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Graphic Novels, it’s an intimate and raw coming-of-age story.

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