4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
High expectations, low actuations,
This review is from: Don't Read This Book If You're Stupid (Paperback)
First of all: The Thought Gang is an excellent book. It's a really good read - witty, well-written, often ludicrously surreal. I read it a few years back and loved it. I'd recommend it to anyone, except perhaps a frail maiden aunt. Please bear that in mind throughout the following review. I'd hate to put anyone off a genuine good read.
Now to the matter in hand. First off, the title. Okay, so it's meant to be edgy, provocative, ironic and witty; but to me it just came off as pretentious and more than a little irritating. It sets the book up as being a challenge to the reader, but finally it just ends up being a challenge to the author which he fails to live up to. "Stupid" (as I'll refer to the book from now on for reasons that will soon become clear) is a collection of seven short stories, or rather, six short stories and one semi-novella-ish type thing. Usually these things are named after the longest story in the book, and while in this case I can understand why he didn't want to give "We Ate the Chef" top billing, he could still have done better than the title he eventually plumped for. If it wasn't for the fact that he wrote the aforementioned Thought Gang and that I assumed his next novel,"The Collector Collector", was a slight and temporary slump, I would have passed over this book in the shop with just a sigh and a shake of the head.
Maybe I'm being too hard on this book because I had such high expectations of it. Or maybe not. As I went through the various stories I got the feeling that Fischer was trying to do something he isn't really cut out for, and that he knows he isn't really cut out for. The first story (the novella-esque thing I mentioned earlier) read to me like a pale imitation of Dead Babies by Martin Amis, other stories reminded me of Will Self, even shades of a more literary Irving Welsh crept in there somewhere. I got the feeling that Fischer was trying to write his way into a currently fashionable style of writing that is popular but still regarded as "intellectual". Decadent and eccentric, but in a firmly middle-class kind of way.
In short, in reading this book I got the feeling that I was reading stuff that Fischer didn't really want to write. Scribblings from a writer's notebook; scraps of ideas which were pursued in the hope that something would develop. The stories all end with an unexpected snap of the fingers, leaving a vacuum of expectation which is left unfulfilled. Now, I'm a big fan of short stories. I've read quite a few in my time. You quickly grow out of the Roald Dahl-style twist in the tale. When stories end unexpectedly you are left bemused and hungry for more; if the story is well written, you run back through it in your mind and suddenly details which seemed mere padding as you read them suddenly take on a greater importance and cast more light on the eventual outcome. With most of the stories in this book, I just got the feeling that Fischer had stumbled across an escape route out of a story he didn't want to continue.
If I was cynical, I might suggest that he had a contract to fulfill.
Fischer can do better than this. Search for "Collector Collector", or, if you want a really good read, buy "The Thought Gang". Me, I'm still looking for a copy of "Under the Frog" in the hope that Fischer might have peaked too early. He's a guy worth reading.