In Andrew Biss's superb collection of short stories The Impressionists there are six stories.
The first one is called Big Girl and is about Peggy who weighs in at a colossal 276 pounds. It is uncanny the way Andrew Biss has got so completely into the mind of an overweight woman and so accurately conveys her angst. At the end of the story I felt a sincere empathy with her and her plight, so brilliantly does Andrew Biss portray her. That he can convey such angst both with wit and empathy is remarkable. That she quotes from Nietzsche, Henry David Thoreau, Confucius, William Shakespeare, Andre Gide and Quentin crisp is a reflection of the erudition of the author, I think. Yet these quotations are woven so seamlessly into the story that they do not seem out of place.
The story contains some swear words, which I wouldn't normally like, but in this story Peggy is justified in expressing her feelings in this way and if you read this brilliant story and you definitely should, then you will see that they are perfectly justified within the context of the story.
This lead story reminds me of A Ball of Fat by Guy de Maupassant and like that story it is worth the price of the book, a meagre couple of pounds or dollars, all by itself. The other five stories in the collection are a bonus and what a bonus they are.
The second story is called The Replica. It starts off in the first person by speaking about the replica in the mirror. Then she begins describing her husband. Then it describes her life as a writer in the third person. I didn't like the constant shift between first and third person and ultimately I found this a depressing and dispiriting story. It is a story lacking Andrew's characteristic wit and charm. He is strongest when writing in the first person.
With the third story A Small Act of Vandalism the wit reasserts itself. Malcolm has his mother's ashes in a little porcelain box and he describes them as" a bit like instant coffee, you might say, only without the flavour." This is another story skilfully told in the author's authentic voice. He makes you really care and empathise with Malcolm and the dilemma in which he was placed. A really lovely story, lovingly told.
The fourth story, One Night Only is about a serial killer interviewing himself prior to his execution. It is funny in a gruesome way. Again the authentic voice of the author shines through this gritty story.
The fifth story is Organ Failure, which is set in a funeral home. This is a short, dark little story in which it is impossible to empathise with the woman telling the story.
The final story in the collection is WYWH, which is another very accomplished story, very witty and very poignant.
Like all short story collections it is a mixed bag, but a mixed bag ranging all the way from good, through excellent to masterly.
Replica and Organ Failure are good.
A Small Act of Vandalism, One Night Only and WYWH are excellent.
Big Girl is a masterpiece.
I like the way Andrew Biss, writing in the first person is able to express the feelings and emotions of an overweight woman, a young man, a serial killer and a middle-aged woman and to you cause you to empathise with them and to see them as real, individual people. This is a rare talent. I highly recommend this collection.