Steve Almond is a funny, funny man, or so his short stories lead me to believe. Many of the stories within his newest collection, The Evil B.B. Chow, are laugh out loud funny and the ones which did not make me laugh out loud, did make me groan or nod at their precise depiction of the sad and cringe-filled human experience.
And, really, what more is the writer’s job than to allow us this connection–where we see ourselves in all of our saddest, most private, and shameful moments? Well, there is beauty, too, that the writer may feel responsible to, and empathy. And Almond does a great job of showing us gorgeous glimpses, moments of understanding and empathy.
All of the stories are great but my top three are:
“The Evil B.B. Chow”–the story of a tough-as-nails woman who has inexplicably fallen for the wrong guy and lost her heart, in which Almond NAILS the voice of the female narrator. I am in love with the end of this story:
There is so much time in this life for grief. So many men lying in wait. And here, tonight, there is a harvest moon, which hangs so heavily yellow above the sea it might be God, or my heart.
“The Problem of Human Consumption”–a haunting story in which a father and daughter finally share a moment of grief–thirteen years later–over the death of the wife/mother. There are certainly a lot of layers to this story–sexual, psychological, mythical–which add to its richness. I found this bit–in which Jess, the daughter, catches her father, Paul, in her room playing with his wife’s wedding band, which he discovered there–to be quite touching:
She sees that he is hunched over something shiny and that this shiny thing is sliding back and forth, between her father’s fingers. There is an instant, the tiniest of instants, in which she too believes the object is floating in the air, and this possibility of magic is a thread that connects them.
Finally, I am in LOVE with “Larsen’s Novel”–a story so fucking hilarious that I can’t even begin to tell you how funny it is. It’s the kind of funny (especially if you write) that you almost feel guilty laughing at. But if you have ever been handed someone’s first draft novel (or, cringe, handed your own first draft over to someone) then this story will completely, utterly resonate with you. The novel in question is quoted throughout the story and it is not unlike novels and stories I’ve read in workshop before. Oh, it is bad (and you will laugh when you read it). But the story really isn’t about the novel, rather it is about the protagonist, Flem and his inability to read the novel–and here is where the tale becomes universal. Finally, through counselling and his own pathetic soul-searching, what he realizes is that he’s jealous of his friend Larsen for writing it. (Who among us has not felt jealousy for those who try something we would like to try? Or who actually succeed in doing something we, in our secret hearts, considered our domain?) Once Flem admits to himself that he is jealous, he is able to read the novel (and reconnect with his friend):
Still, there was a certain undeniable momentum to the proceedngs, once you got beyond the prose. Red wanted a lot of things and he got all of them, with little struggle. Larsen’s novel was unlike life in this regard, and it lacked the tension that often accompanies life. But it was gripping in a wishful, overblown way. By the end, a cloying family scene in which Daddy Bones announces that Red is his “oneliest son” (thus allowing Red to no longer feel different), Flem felt, if not identification with the hero, then at least not the overt hatred that had been his initial reaction.
Outside his study, dawn was creeping in, blue and hopeful, the stars punching out. He felt an odd fondness for Larsen, and imagined him pecking away at his keyboard in the faint morning light, grinning stupidly at his metaphors, smacking his lips
This collection is an enjoyable, fast read–so don’t miss it.
In the meantime, why not read a couple of Steve Almond’s short pieces from one of my favorite ezines, Smokelong Quarterly: