Rating: 3.9* of five
The Book Description: An imprisoned child prince. A woman half a point away from competence on an evaluation review. A gay man who scrubs the floor to be thought inwardly clean. A mad Roman emperor ("I want the crocodiles to fight the pygmy women") calling for more pleasure, more pleasure. The scene at a Denny's in Flagstaff, Arizona, with the quarter-ton mother, her ten-year-old Inflate-O-Kid, her half-stewed fist-cocked husband, and a girl with them who just keeps eating. Yangchow eccentric and master plum painter Jin Nong, 1687-1763. The man who dies mid-sentence ("I have arrived at my destination for a new beginning. And I'm going to get all I can from it, happy, happy, I simply couldn't be, I'm just so completely"). They're all in their places with bright shining faces in these studies of beastliness and beauty. These stories exhibit the power and beauty that realistic short-shorts can convey in a master writer's hands.
My Review: These being short-shorts, they can't be reviewed individually. But they can be read individually, and frankly I suggest you do so: Finish one, sit a few seconds, think; then move to the next one.
Like Lou Beach's 420 Characters, which I loved, these stories are concentrated instead of short. No word is wasted. No idea is shorted, either. A child is murdered in the first story, a future is stolen, a crime committed in the name of love: And no violence is done. Wait, what? No violence. Not that we'd call violence if we watched this on TV. Instead, it's a bloodcurdling kind of death-in-life.
That's the thing...all these stories are concentrated emotional gifts, parceled into brown paper wrappings and tied with strings that part easily before tangling themselves back around our wrists, tight enough to make your veins pop and your fingers swell and there's no way to untie them again. It's uncomfortable, which is why I say read the collection slowly.
And it's beautiful, like case notes from God's therapist. You'll know things, see things, feel things that aren't meant to be comforting, which is why I'm still bumfuzzled as to why, after this reading experience, I'm smiling.