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The New York Times Book Review has praised Richard Burgin’s stories as "eerily funny... dexterous... too haunting to be easily forgotten," while the Philadelphia Inquirer calls him "one of America’s most distinctive storytellers... no one of his generation reports the contemporary war between the sexes with more devastating wit and accuracy." Now, in Shadow Traffic, his seventh collection of stories, five-time Pushcart Prize winner Richard Burgin gives us his most incisive, witty, and daring collection to date as...
The New York Times Book Review has praised Richard Burgin’s stories as "eerily funny... dexterous... too haunting to be easily forgotten," while the Philadelphia Inquirer calls him "one of America’s most distinctive storytellers... no one of his generation reports the contemporary war between the sexes with more devastating wit and accuracy." Now, in Shadow Traffic, his seventh collection of stories, five-time Pushcart Prize winner Richard Burgin gives us his most incisive, witty, and daring collection to date as he explores the mysteries of love and identity, ambition and crime, and our ceaseless, if ambivalent, quest for truth.
In "Memorial Day," an aging man at a public swimming pool recalls a brief but momentous affair he had with a young British woman in London thirty years ago and the paradoxical role his recently deceased father played in it. In the highly suspenseful "Memo and Oblivion," set in the near future in New York, two rival drug organizations engage in a dangerous battle for supremacy—one promoting a pill that increases memory exponentially, the other a pill that dramatically eliminates memory. "The Interview" centers on a B-movie starlet married to a much older and more famous director and her tragic yet comic interview with an ambitious but conflicted young reporter.
Shadow Traffic justifies the New York Times’ claim that Burgin offers "characters of such variety that no generalizations about them can apply" and why the Boston Globe concluded that "Burgin’s tales capture the strangeness of a world that is simultaneously frightening and reassuring, and in the contemporary American short story nothing quite resembles his singular voice."
Johns Hopkins University Press
— Joseph Peschel
— Anis Shivani
— William Hastings
— Colin Fleming
— Joseph D. Haske
Posted October 27, 2011
SHADOW TRAFFIC is such a perfect title for this collection of short stories by the highly regarded writer Richard Burgin: these tales are like the conjurings of things that happen deep within our minds, not ready or felt apropos for communicating with strangers. Yet reviewing a collection of this sort seems almost unfair to the potential reader who will enter Burgin's world because giving even the most brief outline of a story just might spoil the effect of experiencing it first hand on the written page. Burgin seems to be in touch with the acidic relationships between men and women and nowhere is this more evident than in the acerbic story 'Do You Like This Room?' - an apparent early dating situation where the man and the woman exchange rather superficial conversations until some of the subcutaneous facts come to the surface and the result is near Hitchcockian. Or read 'Memorial Day' and be caught up in the geriatric swimming pool arena where thoughts of a man drift toward what may have been the distant past, or the very distant past that leaves him quite alone with the other gomers. 'Single Occupant House' lifts the curtain of the story in the opening paragraph: 'I would have stayed in the other place longer but the false teeth in the bathroom upset me. It was like walking along a beach looking for shells and suddenly seeing a dead lobster. A bad sign, a bad omen, so I knew I had to quit the house and go to the other I'd been considering on Silver Place. I couldn't even remember now why I hadn't gone there before and wondered what that said about me.' Now try to resist following this character's path into the rest of the story! There are portions of comedy and portions of the bizarre and strange in Burgin's stories. And just when you think you will be able to imagine the ending of the next story, up pops his ingenious surprise of a conclusion. He is entertaining, he makes us think, and he makes us keep the light on ... Grady HarpWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 19, 2011
"It would be too humiliating to face him on the playground if he stole my money."
Jeff is a self-made man: with his new condo and telecommuting job, cash, and good looks, he'd seem to have it all. Yet in the second story of this collection, "The Dealer", author Richard Burgin creates a complicated persona that is distinctly childish and insecure. But he's not simply a dumb guy; that would be too easy. Rather it's the disparity between his sense and naivete that makes the character so intriguing. It's not easy to write someone so complicated without the reader impatiently dismissing the character as stupid. Yes, he makes stupid choices, but it's the normal ones that are the most revealing.
In the story, "The Dealer", Jeff befriends a fast-talking musician that plays basketball in the neighborhood and conveniently supplies Jeff with pot. Of course, he has a cool name, "Dash", and appears to be the role model that the more conventionally successful Jeff aspires to. Yet, as shown in the quote above, their friendship seems to be based on more of a nine-year-old awareness than a grown man; while they play basketball at the school, the clue is that Jeff calls it "the playground". Burgin creates an uneasy relationship between the two that hinges on Jeff's unwitting struggle to find a friend.
My favorite of the collection is "Memo and Oblivion," a futuristic story about battling pharmaceutical companies, one of whom has created the pill "Memo" to restore every personal experience and memory to those that take it. "Oblivion" is marketed by another secret organization and promises "to obliterate only painful human memories." Immediately the contrast engages the reader: which would they choose? To be able to remember the first time you bit into an apple? Or to be able to completely erase a painful event?
As the two companies struggle with trade secrets and human testing, the level of tension arises as to what side effects the pills may create. Burgin pokes at different concerns, from legality to ethics, as his characters discover for themselves that all choices have consequences, no matter how well-intended. This story could stand alone and would make a great movie.
"Memorial Day" tells of a grieving son, left with money to burn, travelling to find a purpose for his suddenly empty life. In London, he meets a woman that defies his expectations, and vice versa. The two are strangely connected, and what ends up happening reminds the reader of the adage, "he who hesitates is lost".
While the stories are random and varied, all have a sense of humor and a wry look at modern life. They leave the reader sensing that they need to answer for themselves the questions that were cleverly proposed and threaded into the narratives.