A playful experimentalist probes the limits of fiction in this debut collection.
The post-collegiate braininess of many of Yu’s stories is like the music of the Talking Heads, making the familiar seem off-kilter. Among his mathematically audacious fictional strategies, “Problems for Self-Study” casts itself as a series of algebraic equations that attempt to account for the inevitable arc of a marriage, and “32.05864991%” introduces the field of “emotional statistics” and the precision of probability indicated by the word “maybe.” There’s a reversal of Kafka’s Metamorphosis in “Realism,” a story suggesting that what’s commonly accepted as literary realism is unrealistic convention. “The Man Who Became Himself” also takes a Kafkaesque turn in its comic examination of the essence of identity, when a man starts thinking of himself as “he” rather than “I,” as if he is somehow inhabiting the body of another. The closing “Autobiographical Raw Material Unsuitable for the Mining of Fiction” may or may not be autobiographical, may or may not be fiction, and its narrator, “I,” who reads and writes stories, may or may not be the author. In one of the most metaphorically compelling stories here, “Florence” takes the form of science fiction, set a million years from now, when centuries pass in the blink of an eye, and each human exists isolated on his own planet, communicating across the void. The title story might well be the weakest, though the cover it inspires could appeal to the expanding readership for graphic novels, as Yu details the plight of “Moisture Man,” whose powers fail to make the superhero cut. Within these 11 stories, Yu uses language to suggest what language cannot express, as he deals with themes such as the nature of distance, the essence of time and the illusion of self for readers whose attention span has been conditioned more by video games than classic novels.
Smart, engaging and often deadpan funny. (Kirkus Review
Issues of identity and insecurity simmer throughout Yu’s debut collection, an imaginative excursion into the burrow Kafka built. In “My Last Days as Me,” the unnamed star of the hit TV show Me and My Mother
chafes at the recasting of his onscreen mother and eradicates the line between actor and character. The unnamed man in “Man of Quiet Desperation Goes on Short Vacation” evaluates his existential condition as frequently as a time-obsessed man checks his watch. And in the title story, “Moisture Man” strives to improve his position in the superhero hierarchy, which means constant self-appraisal and comparison to his more successful counterparts (“fireball shooters. A few are ice makers. Half a dozen telepath/empaths”). Yu flirts with formal experimentation—”Problems for Self-Study” unfolds as a complicated multiple choice test, for example—but tempers his fantastical constructions with level prose. (The first two paragraphs of “The Man Who Became Himself” are “He was turning into something unspeakable” and “At the office, people avoided the issue.”) There is abundant humor, though, and Yu allows the reader to feel pathos without patronization; a neat trick, in a compulsively readable collection. (Publishers Weekly
Superhero suggests a cheeky-geeky riff on our comic-book-mad culture, but Yu’s book is actually a piercing survey of ambition, rich with humor, invention, and humanity. In the title story, a minor-league do-gooder he can manipulate atmospheric moisture sells out for a shot at the majors. The ingenious “401(k),” about a married couple nagged by inadequacy, makes subversive use of corporate jargon to skewer commercialized notions of personal fulfillment. In searching for the reasons why “good enough” people feel “not good enough,” Yu emerges as a first-class talent. (the book receives an “A” grade!) (Entertainment Weekly
This unusual debut collection of 11 stories uses an inventive style to probe fundamental questions about modern life from a variety of different perspectives … These stories read like entries in a private journal, with clever metaphors and philosophical introspections related through absurd situations that capture the vagueness in our lives. Recommended for all collections. (Library Journal