Monday, March 10, 2014

Bobcat and Other Stories

Rebecca Lee, one of our most gifted and original short story writers, guides readers into a range of landscapes, both foreign and domestic, crafting stories as rich as novels. A student plagiarizes a paper and holds fast to her alibi until she finds herself complicit in the resurrection of one professor's shadowy past. A dinner party becomes the occasion for the dissolution of more than one marriage. A woman is hired to find a wife for the one true soulmate she's ever found. 
In all, Rebecca Lee traverses the terrain of infidelity, obligation, sacrifice, jealousy, and yet finally, optimism. Showing people at their most vulnerable, Lee creates characters so wonderfully flawed, so driven by their desire, so compelled to make sense of their human condition, that it's impossible not to feel for them when their fragile belief in romantic love, domestic bliss, or academic seclusion fails to provide them with the sort of force field they'd expected.
I've been extra-interested in short stories lately, and when I saw this collection on NPR's best of list for 2013 I knew I had to read it.  I'm so glad I found it through FLP because it is stunningly beautiful.  It's very different from the other collections I've read recently (surreal stories in the vein George Saunders and Karen Russell), but it reminded me of why I love more realistic short stories as well.

My favorite by far was "The Banks of the Vistula", which perfectly captures the early college experience.  It's about a student who plagiarizes a paper and finds herself inextricably caught up in the lie.  The certainty she feels that she is right, that she has the upper hand, that she's getting away with something rang so true for me.  I can clearly remember feeling in college like I knew it all.  It also explores the idea of reading something at a young age and thinking it's amazing and brilliant before you really know better, then going back to it later and wondering why you ever found it genius to begin with.  Just gorgeous.

Entertainment Value
This is definitely geared more towards fans of literary fiction.  I think if you like Alice Munro, you'll probably also enjoy these.  They're snippets from ordinary life that pack a huge punch, but they don't have the same entertainment value that the more off-kilter short story collections have.  Definitely still worth reading in my opinion, however.

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