Saturday, August 13, 2011

Story collections from Lee Smith and Ha Jin

Two short story collections, one from July, the other from August.

Book 80:  Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger by Lee Smith

I stumbled upon the writing of Lee Smith by pure serendipity.

I was at the Virginia Book Festival in Charlottesville to hear Colum McCann. Smith was on the program with him.  I had a copy of Let the Great World Spin that I planned to have McCann sign. 

Nothing by Smith, and that made me feel badly for her. So I picked up a copy of Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger, which she signed. What the hell.

More than a year went by before I picked up the book again and started to read.

What the hell? This was good. Very good.  Smith has a knack for capturing the off-beat, the oddball who views the world just a little differently than the rest of us.  And she's got this sly sense of humor that creeps into most of the stories; sometimes she's laughing with the characters, sometimes she's laughing with you.

Toastmaster, about a little boy and his mother in an Italian restaurant in Florida, is one of the funniest stories that I have ever read.  And it's a story that I will return to in the years ahead. It's that good. 

Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger is a uniformly rich and rewarding collection of stories. I've already added two more books by Smith to my read pile. What the hell.

Book 83: A Good Fall by Ha Jin

A Good Fall by Ha Jin isn't uniformly rich and rewarding. The stories make you wonder why Jin doesn't stick with writing novels.

The stories feel clumsy and unfinished and many of them feel similar. Jin is going back over ground he's already plowed, which leaves the reading flipping back through the book thinking "wait a minute, didn't I already this story?"

There are currently some superb story collections in the bookstores. This isn't one of them.

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