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The Blue Box

Overview

Ron Carlson is a master of the contemporary short story. In The Blue Box, he extends that mastery to the short short story, offering us a captivating glimpse of a writer at play. With that voice of his—sharp, sensitive, and wry, brimming with good humor—Carlson inhabits one standby after another of the American pop landscape, past and present: monster flicks, action heroes, unsupervised teenagers, blogging. Coming in for special scrutiny is the world of education, in hilarious send-ups of recommendation letters, ...
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Overview

Ron Carlson is a master of the contemporary short story. In The Blue Box, he extends that mastery to the short short story, offering us a captivating glimpse of a writer at play. With that voice of his—sharp, sensitive, and wry, brimming with good humor—Carlson inhabits one standby after another of the American pop landscape, past and present: monster flicks, action heroes, unsupervised teenagers, blogging. Coming in for special scrutiny is the world of education, in hilarious send-ups of recommendation letters, teacher evaluations, style guides, and a MOOC. Whimsical, wistful, and gently surreal, The Blue Box delights in life’s unending absurdities, and reminds us not to take anything—especially ourselves—too seriously.

 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 08/25/2014
Carlson (The Signal) is back with a collection of super-short "flash fiction," a slim volume of stories that are both funny and moving, and uniformly excellent. The first story, from which the book's title is taken, exhibits Carlson's primary strategy: adopt a convention (in this case, the thriller's stock situations), then subvert the enterprise en route to an elliptical, wistful, often surprising ending. "Party at the Beach Party House," about a group of young men who appear to be from a 1950s beach movie, offers another brilliant ending with a satisfying, ironic twist. The title of "The Pitcher Sees the Coach Approach" supplies the story's plot but cannot prepare you for the denouement. Many pieces are hilarious, including several letters of recommendation for students, such as the one for Gordon Lee Bunson, an arsonist and stalker. Grammarians will like "My True Style Guide" whose main advice is to make female characters more like "Cheryl Whitcomb," a professor's former flame. The book is so slight it might be mistaken for verse, but while its contents demonstrate the craftsmanship of the poet, they are very much stories: fully wrought miniature narratives. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

“Carlson never drops an extra word or a false phrase.”
—The Washington Post
 
“Carlson’s focus is transporting, absorbing. It shakes you from stupor, strips you down. He understands that most of us live in a world of enervating crap, whether in the cliffs of Idaho or the canyons of the city.”
—Esquire 
 
“Carlson transforms the comic junkpile of Americas waning prosperity into a livable, if harsh, landscape.”
—The Chicago Tribune
 
“His poems are conversational, extremely accessible, willfully casual and consistently funny, but also laced with a lightly worn sadness, a symptom of everyday heartache.”
—Ron Padgett
 
“Carlson’s a romantic—even when he’s writing about failings, folly and violence.”
—The Los Angeles Times
 
“Carlson writes about the natural world with convincing authority… with Ron Carlson, you really are in expert hands.”
—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Carlson captures the ordinary occurrences that define our lives.”
—Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
2014-07-28
A writer of eclectic novels, stories and poems turns playful with this short collection of "flash fiction." A professor of creative writing (Ron Carlson Writes a Story, 2007, etc.) who is best known for his mastery of longer-form fiction, Carlson here turns his attention to the much shorter form. Not short like Lydia Davis, but few of these stories are longer than a couple of pages, a few are poems, and some seem mainly to be exercises in postmodern narrative strategy. The opening, "You Must Intercept the Blue Box before It Gets to the City," for example, uses the imperative mode, as if addressing the reader ("Get that box!" it starts). Yet the "you" who is implied early on and subsequently addressed directly eventually develops into a character who, though unnamed, is definitely someone other than the reader: "You admire your nephew, he's in the top rank of the institute, but you don't love him. He's annoying and smug and expresses so many things in decimals." The collection is divided into four parts, with the second being the funniest and least conventional in terms of storytelling. Most of these pieces involve the academic world, and three in a row are letters of recommendation: one for a student who is apparently living in his car outside the professor's house, another for one who consistently sleeps through class ("a personable, extremely polite young lady who would fit well in any graduate school environment") and the third for "that rare thing: the ideal student" who makes no trouble because he's dead. The last section would seem to be spooky stories about teenagers, longer than most of the earlier ones, with titles such as "Horror Story at Lonely Lake" and "Teenagers Are Going Overnight to the Island without Supervision!," with something close to a plot and named characters, though one of them ("We Went Up to Quencher's Point") has an abrupt disconnect in the middle. If one of these doesn't engage you, it'll only be a minute before you can proceed to the next.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597092753
  • Publisher: Red Hen Press
  • Publication date: 8/19/2014
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 310,505
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Ron Carlson is the author of five story collections and six novels, including Return to Oakpine and The Signal. His fiction has appeared in Harper’sThe New YorkerPlayboyGQBest American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. His book of poems, Room Service: Poems, Meditations, Outcries, & Remarks, was published by Red Hen Press in 2012. His book on writing, Ron Carlson Writes a Story, is taught widely. He is the director of the writing program at the University of California at Irvine and lives in Huntington Beach, California.
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