Gutshot

414kPTfTN0L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

 

PLOT– A collection of visceral, magical, and often horrifying short stories by Amelia Gray.

LIKE– I received Amelia Gray’s short story collection, Gutshot, as part of my Quarterly Company Literary Box. The spring 2017 box was curated by Borne author, Jeff Vandermeer and as part of his picks, Vandermeer included Gray’s collection.

I had never heard of Gray previous to her book arriving in my box, but immediately, I was drawn to the title and cover art. I packed Gutshot to take on my cruise to Alaska, but just a few pages into the first story, I realized that this was too special of a collection to read while on a distracting, family holiday. I stuck to magazines for the vacation. Now, eight months later, I finally found a distraction free afternoon and took the plunge.

Many of her stories are raw and powerful. There are few that elicited the feeling of the title: Gutshot. I felt physically moved and wounded while reading them.

Here are a few of my favorites.

A Contest- a micro-short about people competing to put on the best display of mourning for a person that they love who has died. They are told that the gods will pick the person that has experienced the most grief and that person’s loved one will come back to them. Several people are mentioned and they are all very worthy, including parents grieving over a lost child. The story simply ends with one sentence involving a character who had not been mentioned earlier in the story, a woman who opens her front door to find that her cat has returned. This had me in tears. I’ve lost so many people and pets in my life, but honestly mourning a pet is such a different type of grief.

The Lives of Ghosts – Marcy has recently lost her mother, but discovers that her mom is haunting her in the form of an enormous pimple on Marcy’s face. A pimple that talks and gives advice, including unsolicited motherly advice. This story was so completely unexpected, humorous, and ultimately heartbreaking. I found myself laughing out loud at this irreverent story.

Thank You– A hilarious story about an escalating passive-aggressive exchange of thank you notes. Thank You, as with many of Gray’s stories, increases in outrageousness, creating a fantasy situation. Very funny and relatable. I don’t think there are many women who won’t relate to this frenemy story with manners.

DISLIKE– I can’t claim to like each of Gray’s stories with equal measure; some were so bizarre that I found trouble connecting. Often her stories turned grotesque or incredibly violent, which is not something that bothers me, but I also felt that it didn’t always serve the story, like it was for shock value more than anything.

RECOMMEND– Yes! Gray is a talented writer and the stories in Gutshot are not ones that I can easily compare to another author. They might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they are certainly original. The stories that got me in my gut, I will not soon forget. I look forward to reading more stories by Gray.

Ms. Ice Sandwich

cover122093-medium

 

Thank you to Pushkin Press for providing me with a copy of Mieko Kawakami’s novella, Ms. Ice Sandwich, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – A young boy going through puberty develops a crush on a quirky woman who sells ice sandwiches at a local grocery store.

LIKE/DISLIKEMs. Ice Sandwich is part of Pushkin Press’ series highlighting Japanese authors. I love reading writers from other countries, but I have to admit that I felt like a lot of this novella was lost in translation. Actually, I’m left unsure whether or not it was lost in translation or just not a complete story. Or perhaps, it was brilliant writing, because it kept me thinking about it long after I put it down.

The most intriguing aspect was the character, Ms. Ice Sandwich. She is a very unusual woman, who wears thick blue eye-shadow and is mocked by many people in the town. The protagonist, is fascinated by her and goes out of his way to visit her sandwich stall. I’m not sure that I quite understand what an ice sandwich is, but I think it was more of a Japanese treat, than a savory or meal item. She, being an adult, has no idea that this kid has a crush on her. Knowing that she is older and the town-weirdo, he keeps his obsession fairly hidden, only spilling partial truths to his friend, a girl he has nicknamed Tutti-Fruiti. I wasn’t sure how this crush was going to play out. I kept thinking with the way that the town treats Ms. Ice Sandwich, that she may have been transgendered, but this never came about in the story. It seems her treatment is solely because she dresses quirky and wears too much make-up. This wasn’t a strong character or story choice. I was let-down when my anticipation of a greater reveal, never came to fruition.

Kawakami captures a young boy’s first crush very well, with plenty of realism. He goes through so many emotions as he is trying to process this new feeling. He also has awkwardness with his peers and is dealing with caring for his sick grandmother.

The end of Ms. Ice Sandwich was a let-down, with a dull resolution with regard to both the crush and Ms. Ice Sandwich’s future. I was wanting a more dramatic or unexpected resolution, but the story just ended on a dull note. It fizzled.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. If you can read Ms. Ice Sandwich in Japanese, I think you might have a better experience. Overall, I enjoyed the story, but I don’t think it will be memorable when I look back over my favorite books that I read in 2018.

Here is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World

cover123059-medium

 

Thank you to Bloomsbury USA for providing a copy of Nate Staniforth’s memoir, Here is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Ever since Nate Staniforth was a child, he had always been captivated by magic, specifically, how a magic trick can bring a sense of wonder to even the most jaded adults. Staniforth persued his dream of becoming a magician and soon found himself burned out on a rigorous national tour and loosing what he had loved about being a magician. Stanfiorth takes a hiatus and travels to India to meet with street magicians, in the hopes that he can regain the spark that he had once felt for his craft.

LIKE– I absolutely love a magic show and I’m one of those adults that Staniforth loves to have in his audience, someone who allows themselves to be swept away by the wonder. Staniforth writes about the need as a performer to never allow yourself to lose your own excitement. A few years ago, my family went to see David Copperfield in Las Vegas. Copperfield is one of the premiere magicians in the world and Staniforth even mentions a childhood trip to see Copperfield perform. Copperfield’s show was the worst magic show and one of the worse live performances that I have ever seen. It had nothing to do with his talent and tricks, but everything to do with his lack of enthusiasm. Staniforth may not be as famous as Copeprfield (yet), but he knew enough to realize that he needed to take a break and reevaluate where his career was heading. I thought this was a very bold move, especially as he decided to take this risk just as his career was taking off.

I enjoyed reading about his travels in India, especially when he met with a family of magicians living in the slums. This portion of the story is very transformative, filled with sensory descriptions and self-reflection on the part of Staniforth. Staniforth is a likable narrator and it’s easy to join him on his journey, including the excitement that he experiences through his travels. It truly makes you realize that “magic” isn’t limited to a glitzy stage, but can be found in the every day.

DISLIKE– Nothing. This is Real Magic is a compelling, fast-paced memoir.

RECOMMEND– Yes! This is Real Magic is part memoir and part travel journal. It’s a wonderful pick for readers who enjoy magic, but who also can appreciate the wonders of every day life, especially lives different from their own.