Ron Carlson's characters embrace a sophisticated, earthy, heroic morality. They are the fellows you hope will teach your children, marry your sisters, tell you stories.
I was entirely and happily in Carlson's thrall. The word 'happily' seems especially apt for this writer, who is a master of that rarity in contemporary fiction, the happy ending.
Carlson achieves one hard balancing act after the next, and each of these 33 stories -- from the more uncanny early imaginings to the more plausibly grounded later pieces -- finds some way to prickle the neck hairs. We are caught off guard, even as we feel the practiced hand of the maker.
Comprising stories from three out of print collections (The News of the World; Plan B for the Middle Class; The Hotel Eden), this hefty compilation showcases Carson's chatty, often playful narrative style and his fascination with the tricky nature of male-female relationships. Most of the stories are written in the first person, and Carlson is a master at confessional narrators: men-husbands, fathers and boyfriends-befuddled by, but enchanted with, the women in their lives. "There's a lot inside a man that never gets out," notes the sheriff-narrator of "Phenomena," but the men hold little back in these pages. In the unforgettable "Bigfoot Stole My Wife," a man tries to convince himself that his wife didn't mean to leave him, but was instead kidnapped by the hairy beast. In "Milk," one of the collection's finest stories, a father who refuses to let his infant twin sons be fingerprinted, thinking it smacks of paranoia, realizes that, because of his overwhelming love for them, "now I am afraid of everything." Carlson's offbeat, frequently hopeful stories stand out amid the starker work of contemporaries like Richard Ford and Tobias Wolff. He doesn't ignore life's rougher spots, though: in "The Hotel Eden" a naive young meteorologist, in love with his girlfriend and thrilled with his new, enigmatic buddy, is forced by an act of betrayal to reconsider his optimism and trust. For fans of short fiction, this should prove a treat. (Oct.) Forecast: While it's a bit daunting in size, this is a good volume to dip into now and then; blurbs from Stephen King and Antonya Nelson testify to Carlson's broad appeal and should help attract readers of both commercial and literary fiction. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Drawn from Carlson's three previously published and highly acclaimed collections-"The News of the World," "Plan B for the Middle Class," and "The Hotel Eden"-this hugely appealing selection is among the finest collections of short fiction you will likely encounter. These wry, generous, elegantly written stories mostly concern professional, middle-class characters struggling to understand themselves and connect meaningfully with others. Many of Carlson's characters are lonely, some are confused, and a few are simply overwhelmed by what life has thrown at them. Yet they are listeners and thinkers who engage life deeply, and they bristle with a remarkable vitality. Thematically, Carlson explores a series of richly complex themes related to finding happiness and living honorably. Some of these stories are whimsical and offbeat ("Bigfoot Stole My Wife"), while others handle the more serious subjects of loss and death. The very best-like "Blazo," "Oxygen," and "The Governor's Ball"-take us places we have never been before. An important and inspiring collection.-Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
High entertainment value distinguishes many of the 35 stories here, all distilled from Arizona writer Carlson's first three collections (The Hotel Eden, 1997, etc.). A genial prefatory essay "Friends of My Youth" neatly introduces a writer who's typically inventive, funny, and-rather too often-gimmicky. His narrators parade their eccentricities like designer duds, while beneath such flamboyance fears of marriages collapsing ("Half Life," "The Governor's Ball") and children in peril ("Status Quo," "Milk") insistently surface. Several, however, vividly dramatize familial harmony ("Life Before Science," "The H Street Sledding Record"). Tricky premises ("Zanduce at Second," "On the U.S.S. Fortitude") resemble T.C. Boyle's, but their development lacks that contemporary master's narrative fullness. Elsewhere, Carlson digs deep, finding the embattled humanity that confuses and ennobles such memorable characters as a grieving father tracing his late son's last days in Alaska ("Blazo"), a failed veterinarian-nature writer who finds strength in family and memory ("Plan B for the Middle Class"), and a college student whose summer job delivering "Oxygen" to medical patients saddens him, and makes a man of him. Though Carlson often nods, his best tales will endure, and shouldn't be missed.