Monday, May 02, 2011

May Short Story Month Giveaway

Following up on my earlier post about the Fiction Writers Review's idea to celebrate Short Story Month by giving away a short story collection, here is the collection I am giving away -to one lucky person who comments on this blog post, picked at random after May 31st! And here is the review of the book that I wrote for The Short Review in 2008.

All Over by Roy Kesey (Dzanc books, 2007)


Reading Roy Kesey's collection made me happy. Re-reading it soon after made me even happier. This is not because Kesey's stories are hopeful or optimistic. It is because this is a writer so clearly in love with language and rhythm that it is a delight to experience what he does with words – both those we are familiar with and those I suspect he invented.

The 19 stories range in length from one to ten pages. Several were previously published in literary magazines such as McSweeney's and Opium, publications with a reputation for clever, sharp, irreverent writing. While Kesey's work does fit this description, this is not cleverness for the sake of it. In almost all the stories, even those that on the surface appear utterly absurd, he is unearthing the complexities of our world, the messes we make of it, and the small moments of joy.

This is no easy book; Kesey's reader is required to work hard. He strips down to the essentials; there are few names or places here, anything that might anchor us. There were several stories that, however hard I worked at them, I couldn't squeeze any meaning from at all. This doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the wordplay and the flow of language, I just had no idea what I was supposed to understand here. But the struggle to make sense of the worlds he has created is well worth the effort, though, because most of the stories give and carry on giving on each subsequent reading.

In Fontanel, a story I found very moving, what we presume is a fertility doctor or gynaecologist is describing to an unidentified listener the collage of pictures he creates for each and every birth. As he talks about each picture, we slowly realise all is not what it seems. This “collage” contains images not only of the couple about to give birth, their first child, the wife's mother , but “the gas station attendant who is friendly and serviceable and pretends not to notice the wife's screams”, “the taxi driver scrubbing the back seat of his taxi”, “the aneastheologist, resting for a moment in the break room, imagining new sorts of pain”.

Wait begins as the ordinary story of a flight delayed due to fog. The omniscient narrator pans across the departure lounge, dipping in and out of passengers' thoughts. The language throws out clues that here, too, we are not in reality is we know it: “Airline personnel daydream of islands, and speak urgently into handheld radios though this is only for show: the batteries have been on backorder for years”. As the hours pass, disasters accumulate, the passengers form alliances and organize distractions, until the entire situation crumbles.

Kesey's stories often begin with some semblance of order and then descend into chaos, but the endings are by no means uniformly hopeless: they manage to satisfy while also, in many cases, being suprising or shocking. Kesey's characters sometimes get what they want, but not in the way they - or we - may have predicted. There is an allusion to war or some other, larger event in many of the stories, as if to remind reader and protagonists alike that, although we may imagine we are in control, there is always something greater than us.

All Over is the first release from Dzanc Books, a non-profit small press whose stated aim is to “to advance great writing and champion those writers who don't fit neatly into the marketing niches of for-profit presses”. With this book, they have set themselves a high standard. This is an astonishing debut collection by a writer who deftly uses language, rendering it both spare and rich, sentences and paragraphs reverberating long after the book has been put down. Kesey's keen eye slices through pretence and artifice and although we may not always comprehend his writings on the surface, in our bones we know what he writes are truths.


This collection had a profound effect on my writing. Tell me why you should be the one to win it...!

14 comments:

Dora Dee said...

Your review sounds marvelous. I would love to win this collection because I need to learn how to be brave with my writing. I constantly compare myself to other writers and question myself about what I "should" or "should not do" in a story. I have a lot to learn I know that. Also I tend to write everything but the kitchen sink in my short stories and beat myself up over it. Do all stories have to follow a linear pattern? No matter how much I try to harness myself, the stories become overpopulated with characters. Am I meant to be a novelist or a short story writer I ask myself? I can either tame my short stories or embrace the excitement and adventure as I embark on a new journey like Kesey seems to be doing. I am hoping that reading this collection, I'll be inspired to break free from my constraints.

Thanks Tania!

Kris said...

This sounds wonderful. I love reading your blog and think it's a great gesture for you to take part in Short Story Month in this way.

Tania Hershman said...

Oh Dora, I know exactly how that feels! I've put your name in the "hat".

Kris, lovely to meet you, I've put your name in the hat too!

Tommy said...

Who wouldn't want to win this book? I hope I'm random enough to becme a random winner. Thanks!

Lauri said...

I should win this book because I am a poor staving African with no access to books. Have mercy on me.

Okay I lied. I'm not starving and for the moment not very poor either. BUT I am a greedy book lover and you can be sure if I win this book I will gobble it up with glee.

Alan said...

I should win it because I bought this book well over a year ago (I think it was your review that put me on to it, Tania) and was looking forward to reading it but I can't now find it! It may be somewhere in the house (or at work) but I think I probably lent it to someone and can't remember who. Tried to get it from the library but ours doesn't have it. So this would replace my bought but lost copy...

Rachel W said...

Hi Tania,

I would love to be the lucky winner! From what you say in your review, Roy Kesey is exactly the kind of writer I enjoy reading. I want to have to work at a story, to use my imagination to understand the complexities, to revel in language. These are the advantages of short fiction over novels I feel.

Best Wishes

Rachel

Downith said...

Because I'm worth it. (picture me saying this breathlessly)

(not really, but I would love to read it as it sounds amazing.)

Tawnysha Greene said...

How wonderful! I am hosting a giveaway at my blog, too! The link is here:

http://tawnyshagreene.blogspot.com/2011/05/winners.html

Tania Hershman said...

Tommy, it will be very randomly random! Good luck!

Lauri, thanks for admitting the lie :)

Alan, tsk tsk, you lost it? Not sure you are fit to be in charge of books!

Rachel, you would definitely love his stories, am putting your name in the hat too!

Downith, thanks so much for the theatricality, love it!

Tawnysha, wonderful, thanks for letting us know!

dan powell said...

I'd be very interested in reading this as it sounds like writing worth wrestling with from your great review. All of the stories you mention sound like they would be great to tackle as both a reader and a writer.

Midge said...

What a great review ... I love to read books that have been of inspiration to writers. Happy Short Story Month!

Tania Hershman said...

And the lucky winner is... Dora Dee! (Chosen completely at random using www.random.org). Dora, drop me an email at taniah@gmail.com with your postal address and I will get a copy sent to you. (I am on retreat, only get sporadic emails so it may take a little while, but don't worry when you get the auto-reply).

All the rest of you - buy yourself a copy of All Over! You'll love it.

Alan said...

OK, I'll re-buy it! You're right Tania I'm not a fit person to have custody of books...