The Kind I'm Likely to Get: A Collection


In her New Yorker review of The KGB Bar Reader, Daphne Merkin called attention to Ken Foster's introduction: "His last sentence ... caught me up short, because it seemed both so obvious and so original: 'And that the best writers reveal something about themselves that a smarter person would choose to hide.'" In this collection, Foster does exactly that, as he explores the limits of what we can expect from others, and from ourselves. From New Orleans to Portland to Manhattan and Paris, Foster's characters circle ...

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The Kind I'm Likely to Get : A Collection

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In her New Yorker review of The KGB Bar Reader, Daphne Merkin called attention to Ken Foster's introduction: "His last sentence ... caught me up short, because it seemed both so obvious and so original: 'And that the best writers reveal something about themselves that a smarter person would choose to hide.'" In this collection, Foster does exactly that, as he explores the limits of what we can expect from others, and from ourselves. From New Orleans to Portland to Manhattan and Paris, Foster's characters circle each other as well as their own fates in fourteen stories that evoke Mary Gaitskill, Lorrie Moore, and Denis Johnson. The heart of what we're looking for in life provides the backbone to these surprising and poetic pieces — in which Foster ultimately reveals the gap between what we hope for and the kind we're likely to get.

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Editorial Reviews

David Wiegand
"New York writer Ken Foster, editor of the hip "KGB Bar Reader," has a dazzling surprise for anyone who thought minimalism was DOA in the '90s. In 14 delicately linked stories in his debut collection, "The Kind I'm Likely to Get," Foster not only resurrects the writing style but also proves it can be just as relevant to American culture now as it was in the '80s. Foster establishes the connections among his stories on a foundation of gentle irony: Although everyone is drifting through their lives, hoping to stumble on a sense of meaning, most of Foster's characters keep running into one another, with only the reader aware of their individual back stories. While it's impossible not to admire the easy cleverness with which Foster links his stories, each one stands quite well on its own, thanks to Foster's even greater skill at character development and a patient understanding of human hopes and frailty. Although his writing style is spare, Foster's sense of detail is often luminous? These are ultimately stories of hope, not least because their interconnections suggest that no matter how tough life is, we're all in it together. But Foster endows each story with another kind of hope, that his characters can rest a bit easier if they can only come to terms with reality. In Foster's world, knowing the kind of lives we're likely to get is the most useful information of all. Almost a salvation.
Village Voice
In his debut story collection, The Kind I'm Likely To Get, Ken Foster writes about people who, like Ruth in the story "Happy People," expect "very little, because there were times, when she was young, when she'd expected too much-and from all the wrong people." Foster's characters travel through life like the Flintstones visiting the La Brea Tar Pits, "visiting the site of their own demise....Like they already knew their fate but were completely detached from it." A virtuoso of the mise-en-scene, Foster skillfully evokes the ennui of his driftwood cast as they float between dead-end jobs and relationships. As the divorced bookstore clerk in "Remainders" describes it, "None of us seemed to be here, doing anything, entirely of our own conscious volition." This lack of volition sometimes leads to the seedier side of life: a man in "Two Windows" finds himself turning tricks, charging fees based on "an equation of how bored I'll be divided by how bored I am," while the unnamed narrator of "Another Shoot" spends his days scoring drugs for a movie star. Something has gone wrong in these people's lives, yet they are utterly-and sometimes annoyingly-incapable of fixing it. As a character in "The Circuit" notes of his compadres: "It's like there's a switch that's been turned off inside and they don't know how to turn it back on." While some stories wallow in this almost fashionable sense of dislocation, others go beyond it to show its corrosive consequences. The collection's best sequence shows how a couple named Mary and John stumble into a relationship, hoping against the odds to find happiness. In the end, they wind up suffering its demise with muted disappointment. Foster's deadpan delivery mirrors his cast's baffled detachment, but also rises above it-the stories, unlike their subjects, suggest an escape. In spite of their failures, Foster's characters are vulnerable to the notion that "you can make anything out of the stars if you know where to draw the lines." Unfortunately for them, they just can't figure out how to do that.
Time Out New York
Foster has an eye for the telling detail, and some of his stories overlap in pleasing ways. In "A Story About Someone Else," two characters look back on the same wretched romance from opposite perspectives, giving the reader a deeper understanding of both of their lives.
Susan Reynolds
"Each story, each novel, is like a little hologram sent into space to colonize a new land with a vision of how life should be. Ken Foster's book of stories, 'The Kind I'm Likely to Get,' gave me this crazy idea. His stories are calm and familiar even as they describe characters in extreme trouble--usually financial or relationship-related. There is a vision here of just about every edge you could fall off in your carefully constructed life, and remain standing. Most of the characters are 20-something, and the stories are set in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. The essential truth of these characters is that they like to hang out, preferably with friends. This is deeper than it sounds--remember, it was this generation's parents who invented candy-coated parenthood: It's OK to spend very little time with your children as long as it's 'quality time.' It's OK to have someone else care for them as long as they're loved. It's OK to move around for jobs or divorce as long as they're still well provided for. Yet what matters to the young people in this book is home and time, not money. "They are almost Chauncey Gardener-like in their blank-slatehood. Foster says it well in 'A Story About Someone Else,' in which Mary watches herself making something that really happened to her into a story she will tell other people, 'at offices and dinner parties.... Soon it won't be a story about Mary anymore. It will become a story about someone else.' Maybe that's in the future Foster would create--more myth and less memoir."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Foster's first short story collection captures the blunt ethos of underachievers. Characters are cursed with alienated souls, temp jobs and nowhere relationships. Worse, most are approaching, or have crossed into, the dread 30s. The 14 stories center emblematically on the brief relationship between John and Mary. In "Indelible," John, a man whose entrepreneurial ambition is to market a certain graffiti doodle he's come up with--"a locomotive with cockroach legs"--begins an ambivalent, virtually affectless affair with Mary, which ends anticlimactically. In "A Story About Someone Else," readers follow Mary as she drifts from San Francisco after having published a scathing newspaper piece about her relationship with John, back to New York, where loose-cannon John finds her and breaks her nose. In "Running in Place," Mary runs into John again, and ends up apologizing instead of confronting him. Peripheral characters in some stories become protagonists in others, illustrating somewhat drearily the "small-world effect," the high probability of overlap and awkward cocktail party run-ins for urban lovers and their exes. Foster traces his characters from the East and West coasts, with many dead-on details: the coffee shops, Kinko's and boring parties found in different cities. Drifters and neurotics, wanna-be artists and tepid couples find themselves in various cycles of being flirted with, dumped, laid and fired. The narratives can become annoying in their self-important inertia, especially in the deliberately awkward, shallow dialogues between faux friends, but there are many pessimistic, plangent truths to be gleaned from Foster's grim adventurers. Author tour. July FYI: Foster was the editor of The KGB Bar Reader. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Modern relationships, or nonrelationships, are illuminated in Foster's 14 stories. In four of them--"Indelible," "A Story About Someone Else," "Running in Place," and "Crush"--we meet the same characters at different times. Mary and John lived together; John contemplates why Mary left. In another story, Mary has published an article about their relationship, which is unflattering to John. Later, Mary meets John and understands it's over, and finally Mary develops a crush on someone else. In "Keep It from the Flame," a mother leaves her children by the road one night and drives away. Whether the subject is an envious hustler, a workplace affair, or a divorced man wearing his wife's dress, a lack of trust reverberates through these stories. Foster, editor of The KGB Bar Reader, combines depth and simplicity in a way that makes for potent reading and indicates great potential for the future.--Joshua Cohen, Mid-Hudson Lib. Syst., Poughkeepsie, NY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Lev Grossman
"Holy God. Ken Foster's characters lead dreary lives. They're shiftless, careerless creatures dragged from party to party and city to city by failed romances, haunted by the voice that whispers in the night , Aren't you getting too old for this shit? And even though they're realistically depicted, reading about them isn't a whole lot of fun...[I]n the end, this collection isn't a success. Foster is too easily tempted by the easy metaphor--the woman in the bookstore who thinks of herself as a remaindered book, or the man doing laundry who compares his relationship to a ruined shirt. And pat metaphors wren't enough of a reward for slogging through tales of passive people unenlivened by humor or drama or even some decent sex." From Time Out New York, July 1999
Kirkus Reviews
A debut collection of 14 stories by impresario Foster (The KGB Bar Reader, 1998). As director of a popular reading series in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Foster could be said to have cut his teeth on the spoken word. The problem with readings, however (especially the ones in bars), is that they tend to emphasize the sound of a story rather than the story itself—transforming prose into a stylized kind of verse without narrative. Most of Foster's tales are simply portraits in which nothing very much happens to a succession of young people who are not terribly memorable in their own right. The title story, for example, describes the daily routines (finding an apartment, looking for a job) of a man down on his luck in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. The equally forlorn narrator of "Indelible" reflects on a failed love affair while washing his clothes at a Laundromat, while the divorced wife of "Remainders" (who left her yuppie husband to take a job at Barnes & Noble) seems just as unable to divine any meaning from the failure of her marriage or any purpose in her new freedom. The middle-aged couple of "Happy People," who spend an unpleasant New Year's Eve in Paris, are victims of a similarly inarticulate Weltschmerz, while the young heroine of "Running in Place" succumbs to her depression in the East Village (where she moves into a sublet and finds little to do). In "Red Dresses," a young man goes to a party dressed as a woman and is attacked on his way home. The longest story ("Like Incest") is the least substantial, a minimalist account of an unhappy love affair, written in the form of a letter. Flimsy and weightless accounts of youthful ennui, narrated in the straight-faced voice("I've become the kind of person who takes possession of things I have no use for") of someone who takes himself way too seriously.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688169800
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 204
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Ken Foster has organized the KGB Bar Reading Series since its inception in 1994. He received an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University, where he was fiction editor of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art. He lives in New York City and is at work on a novel.

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Read an Excerpt

The men were all worried about their hemlines. They stood in groups discussing the merits of length, while the women stood in line for the phone, waiting to call out, or sat in groups around the men, occasionally giving advice, like how to walk in a narrow cut or how to avoid a run in sheer stockings.

But everything was fine at the Red Dress party. It was only later that things began to unravel.

I hadn't planned to attend. I've never enjoyed parties much and didn't have the right clothes, didn't like the idea of having to buy a dress for the sake of a party, a red dress being mandatory attire for things like this. Besides, I'd always felt men didn't look good in dresses, and I hadn't been out of the house in a while, except to work. I'd been busy with a little crying jag for the past couple of weeks, but I wasn't too worried, because it felt kind of good.

It wasn't until I curled myself up on the closet floor to think things through that I noticed the red cloth bleeding through between suits of gray flannel. It wasn't Anne's style at all. Sort of a mother-of-the-bride kind of thing. A red mother-of-the-bride kind of thing. It didn't surprise me that she had left it behind when she left me, but I was surprised it fit me. I remembered Anne as being a much smaller person.

It was still light out when I drove up the winding hillside road to the Doctor's house. None of us really knew the Doctor except Dan, who was giving the party. He had met the Doctor through another friend when he realized the guests would never fit in his own house. It was one of those parties where people invited friends who invited other people, so by the time I got there, I couldn't remember who had told me tocome.

I parked my car along the road and walked barefoot through the yard. Only a few guests had arrived, and they were gathered on one of the balconies overlooking Portland. I looked up at the men and women standing in red dresses, the dresses rustling in the wind, framed against an overcast sky like leaves about to fall.

I had some trouble negotiating the lawn in a dress. It narrowed at the knees. The women began to point and laugh.

"Oh, you look lovely," they called.

I looked up to see if I knew them. I held my hand above my eyes to shield them from the sun behind the clouds. In red dresses, it was hard to tell anyone apart. It was hard to see if they might be friends of Anne's, the friends who told me when she left, "I'll never speak to you again." The friends who, I realized, had never said anything more to me than that.

Inside the house, everything was cream walls and pale wood floors. The furniture had been removed to make room for people who couldn't be trusted. A girl in a red dress sat on the stairs talking on a cellular phone to someone who was far away. I thought I'd always wanted to go to a party where people talked on cell phones, instead of to each other. It was like something from a movie.

On the balcony people gathered still, talking of the weather. A woman in a red dress turned to her husband and said, "This is why I moved here."

He said, "The weatherman says it's going to clear up.

I said, "That's what they've been saying, but every day is the same."

"Exactly," the woman said, and smiled.

I took a seat and watched as the guests rolled in. Red gowns, red skirts, red polka-dot spandex on a bodybuilder. One man wore a dark suit with a tiny doll's red dress pinned to his lapel. No one argued with him. From across the room, two women watched their husbands in red dresses. One of the women, wearing a red pillbox hat, said, "He looks better in that dress than I do." By the end of the night, when she was fruitlessly searching the red mass for her husband, we were calling her Jackie 0.

People disappeared upstairs to stand in line at the bathrooms and return with new faces. Red lipstick, rouge, some with eyes rimmed in shadow.

It was in my bathroom, clearing out the makeup after Anne left, that I had planned how I would kill myself. I pictured myself standing before the mirror, a gun to my head, anxious to pull the trigger if only I had one. The idea excited me, not because I wanted to die, but because I was capable of doing it. It was something I could do to make one day unlike any other. The possibility of watching my head burst in a red cloud in the mirror kept me going. I woke up each day to see if it would happen. But it didn't, and every day seemed like every other.

At the party, Joyce stood alone before the mirror, trying to cover the gray circles under her eyes the signs that she wasn't really in remission. "I look like a raccoon," she said. She smiled at me and said, "I wasn't going to come. Ed was afraid people would think he'd beaten me."

"Why didn't he come with you?" I asked.

"He said any party where you have to wear a red dress is stupid." Joyce laughed. "Maybe he was just afraid."

"He probably should be," I said, and for an instant I thought I'd said we instead of he.

Joyce asked how I was doing.

''I'm fine,'' I said. ''I'm getting better.''

Joyce said we couldn't stay in the bathroom all night and maybe we should go back outside.

I said, "Only if we have to."

As we passed through the kitchen, I overheard two red-dressed women talking about Joyce.

''I'd never go out in her condition,'' one said, and the other, with a red feather boa wrapped around her neck, agreed. She said, "Looking for sympathy," and nodded. I wondered what they'd say about me when I was gone. Joyce seemed not to notice, and I wondered for a moment if they might actually be talking about me.

Joyce and I stepped out onto the balcony with drinks in our hands and looked down to the city below. The lights were masked by fog and drizzle. We could see the lights of neighboring windows shining through the narrow spaces between the trees.

I said, "It wouldn't be so bad if it would actually rain."

We stood quiet for a while, looking at nothing in particular. The lights from the warehouse district cast a pink hue in the sky.

I said, "It doesn't seem like anyone knows we're here."

We stood on the sidelines for the rest of the night, drinking and watching people talk about what a great idea the red dresses were.

"A great equalizer," someone said. "I feel as if I can talk to anyone.

When I wasn't looking, someone used my drink as an ashtray. I didn't notice until I had swallowed a cup of ash. The Doctor whose house we were in began to clean up around us, collecting the debris others had left behind. We watched as he circled us.

"I never even met him," I told Joyce.

She said, "Neither did I."

I didn't trust myself to drive home safely, and no one offered a ride. I began to walk back down the hill in my bare feet, the mist collecting in my dress. Carloads of red-dressed people passed me by without stopping. I stretched my arms out and let the air blow through me. Light caught in the fog, an orange glowing haze formed over the city, the wind picked up the leaves around me, and I thought, this feels good somehow: to be alive. I didn't notice the hem of the dress tearing a little with each clumsy step, red thread trailing the ground behind me.

Along the side of the Hawthorne Bridge, a single shoe was resting on its side. I wondered, how can that happen that someone leaves a single shoe behind? I heard the crisp sound of tires slowing on wet pavement, the sound of a car door as it opened and closed, and tasted a leather glove as he reached around me to cover my mouth.

Of course, this is how it happens.

I'd been in the hospital for nearly a week before I understood the extent of my injuries. One of my ribs had punctured a lung. My jaw had been dislocated on the right side. My lips were cut in two places, and one eye swollen shut.

Other injuries were internal.

They sent a policewoman to ask me questions. Her first question was, "Had you been drinking?"

I shook my head. "Why?"

"Well, because . . . you were wearing a . . . a . "A red dress," I said.

"We're just trying to establish any motive."

"You're wearing pants," I said. "Have you been drinking?"

Friends came to visit, once it seemed clear I would make a full recovery. I was wearing one of those white hospital gowns that leave you exposed where you are most vulnerable.

I didn't rise to meet them.

They came in a group and wandered the room like manic tourists who had just arrived in a foreign country. They wore long beige coats kept buttoned from head to toe.

They pointed at familiar objects as if seeing them for the first time.

Look at the television!

You get cable?

How's the food?

Look at the view!

Have you met anyone interesting?

Finally someone asked how I was feeling.

I told them the only thing I thought they'd understand.

Fine, I said. Just fine.

No one pointed to the red dress that hung from the wardrobe in a plastic bag. Someone on staff had thought to have it drycleaned.

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Table of Contents

keep it from the flame 1
indelible 9
red dresses 21
the circuit 29
another shoot 45
remainders 53
a story about someone else 69
two windows 89
the kind I'm likely to get 97
things you can make something out of 121
running in place 133
like incest 153
crush 171
happy people 185
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2011

    Makes you think.

    This book is full of great stories that are interesting to read and make you think. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 1999

    My Favorite Book

    This book is some of the greatest short fiction I have ever read. I loved it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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