All of Dorst's stories brim with gumption. They're fun-loving, testosterone-rich yarns. And while his book is an amalgam of voices, moods, styles and forms…the stories speak to an important literary pursuit: that of pushing limits, of embracing challenge, no matter the gharials at your toes.
The New York Times
Dorst's acclaimed debut, Alive in Necropolis, folded sci-fi, horror, and noir elements into a layered coming-of-age story, and a similar mix of lively imagination and love of craft are on display in this excellent collection. "Splitters" hilariously recreates a scholarly treatise, replete with bloated footnotes and period photographs, by a biologist unloading personal grudges upon colleagues. In the title story, dozens of short vignettes have the effect of snapshots or glimpses that the reader is challenged to piece together. A similar method is used, but to a grander effect, in "Twelve Portraits of Dr. Gauchet," which borrows its title from a Van Gogh painting and depicts the life of the famous artist's physician. The narrative in the poignant and surprisingly suspenseful "Dinaburg's Cake" coils in the obsessive mind of its protagonist, a cake maker in pursuit of a lost client with whom she imagines a significant connection. Whether it's the campaign adviser shackled to a loser in "The Candidate in Bloom" or the hapless dreamers in "Vikings" and "What Is Mine Will Know My Face," the humanity in Dorst's characters can break a reader's heart. (July)
"The Surf Guru is one of the best collections I've read in years. Formally innovative, full of humor and terror and compassion in equal measure, and spanning an astonishing range of settings and characters, these stories renewed my faith in the short story as an art form. Dorst's work is utterly unique and visionary."
-Dan Chaon, author of Among the Missing and Await Your Reply
"The stories in The Surf Guru are unusual not just for the frequent genius of their conceits, but for the tremendous sympathy they demonstrate toward characters who struggle with love, loneliness, and disappointment. Doug Dorst writes with a big, unbridled imagination and a big, commiserating heart, and the results, by turns devastating and hilarious, are always deeply moving."
-Chris Adrian, author of The Children's Hospital and A Better Angel
Dorst's second book, following his debut novel Alive in Necropolis (2008),is a varied,inventivecollection of stories.
The title tale, told in fragments, is equal parts rueful and playful, and features a surfing legend turned surfwear king who sits alone on hisbluffside deck watchinghiscustomers (or, seen another way, his congregants)in the swells below—he's keeping an eye on his legacy, and maybe even rooting for it to unravel. A radically differentstory-in-snapshots, "Twelve Portraits of Dr. Gachet," follows Van Gogh's decline through the eyes ofa personal physician who's part quack and part groupie. In "Vikings," two drifters on thelamstumble intoa desert town where they find themselves out of money, out of time, out of patience...and in possession, suddenly and inexplicably, of a baby abandoned by a stranger. Rarely in debut story collections does a writer succeed in showing versatilityand range without the book devolving into a miscellany, but Dorst expertly manages the feat. He attempts a Nabokovian trick of unreliable narration in "Splitters," a vengeful botanist's field guide to all the fellow botanists who screwed him over in life. In "Dinaburg's Cake," a baker grows dangerously obsessed with a lost wedding-cake commission, and meanwhile grapples with how to helpher teen daughter, who's ripping out her own hair one strand at a time. Some stories—for instance, the magnificently odd meditation on war called"The Monkeys Howl, the Hagfish Feast" and the contemporary-campaign riff "The Candidate in Bloom"—offer a brand of magical realism. "Jumping Jacks," about a childhood accident involving fireworks,is abrief, lyrical, bittersweetreflection onthe moment where a lifewent wrong (but oh man, was it beautiful). Still others ("Astronauts") havethe humor, tragicomedyand slightly giddydownbeat feel of Denis Johnson's short fiction.
In this funny, poignant, risk-taking and mostly splendid collection, Dorst confirms the promise of his acclaimed first novel.