Jan 23, 2008

McSweeney's 24

various authors, edited by Dave Eggers

Like a siamese twin, McSweeny's 24 is a volume in two parts, with two spines and one back. As much an anomaly in literature as in the human frame, I am sure. You have to hold it in your hands to believe the curiosity of it. It is a publication of short stories. The first half contains six tales of troublesome events-- crime, drugs, murder, etc:

"How to Make Millions in the Oil Market" - about an American soldier in Iraq
"Stockholm, 1973" - about a ludicrous bank robbery attempt in Sweden
"Bored to Death" - a Raymond Chandler fan pretends to be a private investigator and gets himself into a mess
"Look at Me" - bloody shooting of patrons in a restaurant for what reason I could not ascertain
"Death of Nick Carter" - a very strange, surreal portrait of an insane asylum with a violent end
"The Last Adventures of the Blue Phantom" - a man breaks into a home, tells a small boy he is a superhero, and takes him along on a criminal escapade...

Strangely enough, I liked the first of these best. And I'm not one to enjoy war stories, especially battle scenes. But the descriptive language was so precisely vivid and new like sparkling water, that I enjoyed it for the words alone, not necessarily the scene they described. The other two I found intriguing were "Bored to Death" and "The Last Adventures..." that was interesting. But to be truthful, the writing I liked most in this volume isn't even listed in the contents. It's a pamphlet-like sheaf of pages pasted onto the free end paper, a selection from an upcoming volume to be published by McSweeney's called A Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman. I want to read this in its entirety.

If you turn the blue volume around, you find a compilation of writers' reminisces on the author Donald Barthelme, and two of his short stories which are (the editors explain) difficult to come by in print (until now). I am not surprised I never heard of Barthelme before; I don't read many short stories. I was dubious at first, but some of the essays on Barthelme were quite convincing of his brilliance and excellent writing. George Saunders' essay on Barthelme's art in the short story gave me a greater understanding of what short stories are. But, at the end I'm afraid I was puzzled. "The Bed" left me unmoved, and I could not make head or tails of "Pages from the Annual Report". It felt like reading a conversation in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, or pages of Kafka; and I felt like there was a big joke I just didn't get.

I intend to hand this volume over to A. and see what he makes of it. I am sure he will like the six short stories much better than I; after all he can enjoy films that portray crime and violence, whereas they make me uncomfortable or bored. Perhaps he can explain to me what is going on in some of these stories...

Rating: 4/5 ........ 125 and 82 pages respectively, 2007


  1. This sounds interesting. Short stories seem to be all the rage now. Thanks for visiting me and leaving your comments. I enjoyed finding your blog and looking around. Come back anytime!

  2. All the rage, and yet I still can't seem to get into them. This one was an exception, but maybe I am finally learning to appreciate them.

  3. You might check out these three by Barthelme when you have time: "The Baby," "The School," and "Some of Us had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby" if you get a chance. Good stuff. Better to start with.

    In terms of the George Saunders essay and Freitag's story arc, check out "The Use of Force" by William Carlos Williams. This brief classic illustrates that idea perfectly in about two pages.

  4. Thank you for the suggestions. I would certainly be interested in reading more by these short story authors.


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