Bang Crunch

Bang Crunch

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by Neil Smith

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An audacious New Face of Fiction debut: nine riveting stories that announce a major writer in the tradition of Yann Martel and Barbara Gowdy.

Unexpected humour and tenderness intertwine with loneliness and hopefulness in this remarkable book from an already acclaimed writer. In nine richly varied stories, written in intense, clear-eyed prose, the reader is


An audacious New Face of Fiction debut: nine riveting stories that announce a major writer in the tradition of Yann Martel and Barbara Gowdy.

Unexpected humour and tenderness intertwine with loneliness and hopefulness in this remarkable book from an already acclaimed writer. In nine richly varied stories, written in intense, clear-eyed prose, the reader is led into an exploration of the human need for connection, however tenuous or absurd, and at whatever cost. The stories operate with heartbreaking precision, drawing us past the surface of characters’ lives and into the moments of decision and recognition that shape these people irrevocably.

Here are stories striking in the range of their shifting tone and the reach of their subjects. We are introduced to a support group for people who suspect their benign nature has caused benign tumours to grow inside them. The title story zeroes in on a girl with Fred Hoyle syndrome whose age expands and contracts like the universe. A recently widowed woman talks to her husband’s ashes, which are entombed in a hollowed-out curling stone. A store detective’s valiant act to save a pair of pink calfskin gloves is entwined with the unfortunate results of an unsuccessful space mission.

Rendering grief, loneliness, hope, love and happiness with exquisite subtlety and intelligence, Neil Smith proves himself an able chronicler of the human condition. Bang Crunch constitutes a significant achievement by a powerful new writer.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Montreal-based translator Smith debuts with nine stories, some of which hit the mark. In "The B9ers," a man forms a support group for people who have had benign tumors removed, and that's where the action stops: a weak subplot involving fraud by a representative of an orphanage fails to give the story much bite. In "Isolettes," a woman has a baby with the use of her friend's sperm, yet when catastrophe strikes after the birth, the general airlessness of the writing makes it hard to access her feelings. Similarly, the collection's longest story, "Jaybird," profiles an ambitious actor led into an extremely revealing performance by his agent's secretary under false pretenses, but the denouement unfolds mutedly. Smith's poise finds its best home in "Extremities," which follows a pair of gloves from one owner to another and finally through a murder, and in the title story, in which a woman ages forward too rapidly, and then backward just as rapidly. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Debut collection of nine limp stories, some realistic, others whimsical. The opening story, "Isolettes," illustrates that limpness. An, a translator, has "given up on relationships." Still, she tells her gay friend Jacob, she'd like a baby because she feels "a bit adrift." She arranges an artificial insemination with Jacob; the baby is a preemie; it dies in the incubator. Ironically, Jacob is more distraught than An, who stays detached, as does the reader. In the last and longest story, "Jaybird," Benoit is a struggling, fairly talented stage actor. He's also vain, competitive, promiscuous and dull. His apprentice in a theater mentoring program is Madeleine, a smart, resourceful scheduler at a talent agency whose famous clients treat her like a piece of furniture. Madeleine uses Benoit to get her revenge. This should have been her story, but Benoit is the lead, which makes for an uninvolving denouement. Smith also misfires with "Scrapbook," the obliquely told story of a campus massacre that focuses on the relationship between Thomas, a survivor, and his girlfriend Amy. Thomas's cowardly behavior is never examined deeply enough. Smith is more on target with "Green Fluorescent Protein," in which 17-year-old Max fights his attraction to another male teenager. Max's mother, a recovering alcoholic, gets her own story, ("Funny Weird or Funny Ha Ha?), a meandering lament for her dead husband. The best and worst stories are purely fanciful. In the title story, eight-year-old Eepie Carpetrod finds her age and brainpower accelerating dramatically, courtesy of a rare syndrome. She becomes famous, with her own cable talk show; then in old age, the process goes into reverse; the story is short, and itsizzles. "Extremities" is about some calfskin gloves in love with a store detective, and a dead astronaut's right foot that makes landfall in a rosebush. Yes, it's as silly as it sounds. Smith's frequent focus on the bizarre clouds his vision.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Contemporaries
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Random House
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Read an Excerpt


Blue tube, green tube, clear tube, fat tube. A Dr. Seuss rhyme. The tubes run from robotic Magi gathered around the incubator, snake through portholes in the clear plastic box, then burrow into the baby’s pinkish grey skin. One tube up her left nostril. One tube down her throat. One tube into an arm no wider than a Popsicle stick. One tube tunnels into her chest. The skin of her chest is so thin. The baby’s mother can almost see the tiny organs beneath, the way shrimp is visible under the rice paper of a spring roll. The baby doesn’t move. Doesn’t cry. To the mother, the baby, with its blue-black eyes, is an extraterrestrial crash-landed on her planet. Hidden away and kept alive by G-men while they assess what threat this tiny alien might pose.

“What kind of mother will you be?” Jacob asked. He and An sat side by side on a braided rug watching a flickering candle on An’s coffee table. An said, “I won’t be a mommy who bores people with the trials and tribulations of teething.” Jacob disagreed: “You’ll be like those TV-commercial moms who fret over whether to buy two-ply or three-ply toilet paper.” From the coffee table, An picked up a blue ceramic cup, the kind used for espresso, and handed it to Jacob. “Real traditional,” she said. “Real Norman Rockwell.” Jacob grinned and stood, stretching his long legs. While he was in the bathroom, An got up and dropped a jazz CD in her player. Then she went into her bedroom and lay on her bed. Before the first song ended, Jacob came out of the bathroom. “You were fast this time,” An said. Jacob replied that he’d been practising at home. He handed her the espresso cup and kissed her forehead. “I don’t love you,” he said. An replied, “I don’t love you, too.” After he’d let himself out of the apartment, An drew Jacob’s semen into a syringe. She hiked up her peasant skirt and slid off her underwear. Then she lay on her bed, two pillows propped beneath her rear. It was the first time with the pillows: gravity, she reasoned, would help.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Otherwise known as NICU. The doctors pronounce it NICK U, as if it were a university. “Our kid is studying at NICK U,” Jacob jokes with a nurse, who stares at him blankly. An thinks of NICK U as a baby hatchery, one that smells like the stuff dentists use to clean teeth. The incubators, a dozen aquariums, are not in neat rows, but here and there, the way progressive schoolteachers arrange desks. Ventilators hum, monitors flash, alarms sound, a baby makes a noise like a gobbling turkey. Meanwhile, neonatologists complete their rounds. Some spill a hot alphabet soup of acronyms–ROP, BPD, C-PAP–in An’s lap. Others say, with a hand on her shoulder, “We realize how stressful this must be.” To them all, An wants to yell: “Nick you!” Better yet: “Nick off and die!”

Four months into An’s pregnancy, Jacob moved into a top-floor apartment in her building. He called the place the pent-up suite because, according to An, the former tenants, a sulky husband and wife, were passive-aggressives. To exorcise the couple’s demons, Jacob wandered around his stacks of moving boxes spritzing a citrus deodorizer. “If marriage is an institution,” he said, “married people should be institutionalized.” An wondered if this was a veiled reminder: that she and Jacob were not a couple, that they weren’t bookends propping up Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare. Still, the move into her building had been Jacob’s idea. An concurred, though. Proximity without intimacy: it sounded good to her. She had no desire to actually live with Jacob or any other man. Men’s bathroom habits, the Q-tips caked with earwax they left on the sink, depressed her. In her foolish twenties, she’d shared a loft with a boyfriend whose puppy-dog good cheer had made her want to drive him out into the country and leave him there. “Maybe more marriages would last if couples didn’t live together,” she said to Jacob as he unpacked a food processor the size of a space probe. “Maybe couples should buy two semi-detacheds and each live on either side,” she added. Jacob laughed his nose-honking laugh. “That’s why you always strike out at love, An,” he said. “You’re so semi-detached.”

Between the twenty-third and twenty-fourth week of An’s pregnancy, the placenta began to separate from the uterine wall. Semi-detached, An thought, when the doctor told her. By this time, she was lying under a spotlight in the emergency ward of the Royal Victoria Hospital. Her contractions were a minute apart. A nurse, the one who’d injected her with antibiotics earlier, yelled out, “Cervix fully effaced!” The warm amniotic fluid trickled over An’s thighs, and the obstetrician soon announced, “She’s crowning,” as if An herself were Queen Victoria. Then came the huge, irresistible urge to push. When the neonatologist lifted her newborn daughter, An saw the tiny infant bat the air with one arm as if to clear everyone away, the doctors, the nurses–even her exhausted, terrified mother.

Though An hadn’t wanted a baby shower, Jacob gave her one anyway. The theme, fittingly, was showers. The weather co-operated by drizzling. First, they took in the stage musical Les parapluies de Cherbourg, co-starring An’s mother, Lise, who played an umbrella-shop owner in Normandy who meddled in her daughter’s affair with a kind-hearted mechanic. The daughter got pregnant by the mechanic but ended up marrying a diamond importer she didn’t love but grew to respect. During the standing ovation, Jacob whispered, “Only the French can make a comédie musicale depressing.” Backstage, Lise pulled An into her dressing room and shut the door. Her stage makeup was as cracked as a Rembrandt.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Neil Smith is a Montreal writer. He has won an honourable mention at the National Magazine Awards, first prize at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, and was nominated for the Journey Prize three times. His writing has appeared in The Journey Prize Stories, Coming Attractions 04, The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, Fiddlehead and Maisonneuve.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Bang Crunch 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She sighed happily and lay down on her wood-chip nest. It had little traced of sand in it, making it soft.theden wasn't really a den. It was a tree was tall so it looked over the Clan's territory, but Shockstar could still jump from her branch without hurting herself. Squirells and birds chattered above jer den.
cindysloveofbooksarcCS More than 1 year ago
This is a collection of 9 short stories, which by the way is Neil Smith's debut novel. He is a Canadian author living in Montreal, QC. The characters in all the short stories are all average people who end up in unexpected situations. The stories all vary in plot but the settings are all the same. The stories are all based around Montreal locations. (Its always nice to read books that take place in your city.)

The first story called Isolettes opens like this "Blue tube, green tube, clear tube, fat tube" The story is about An who has just had a premature baby with her gay friend Jacob. The details of the premature baby are so exact that you feel as though you are in the Nick U with the baby.

The story of Green Florescent protein is about a 17 year old boy, Max who is struggling to admit his attraction to his friend. There is also another story about Max's mother Funny Weird or Funny Ha Ha. Where she talks about growing up watching reruns of I Love Lucy. She talks about her husband and how he died. She put his ashes in a curling stone.

The B9ers is about the struggle of a group of people trying to return to normal life after finding out they all have benign tumors. They don¿t get the support they need since their tumors aren't malignant.

The Bang Crunch is about Eepie a girl with Fred Hoyle¿s Syndrome, which ages her a year a day until she reaches 80 and then she goes back in time.

Those are just a few examples of the stories that are in the book. I really enjoyed reading them. Its been awhile since I have read short stories. Looking forward to reading some more.