Saturday, July 28, 2012

McSweeney's 40

Edited by Dave Eggers

The latest edition of McSweeney's (which comes packaged with a book about Rwanda, which I haven't read yet) is book-ended by pieces that examine two separate recent occurrences of mass protest and uprising.  The book opens (after the usual Letters section) with a piece on Occupy Wall Street, and ends with a collection of writings from Egypt's great uprising of 2011.

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh's 'Notes From a Bystander' was as much about his difficult relationship with his father, an old-school Socialist, as it was about the Occupy Movement, and that's what made the piece work.  Sayrafiezadeh is not like the youth who started camping out in Zucotti Park last summer - he was born and raised in the Socialist movement, and has reached a level of exhaustion with political protest, which makes him an interesting commentator for such a singular moment.  It was nice to see the events near Wall Street from such a rare perspective.

From there, this volume moves into a series of short stories.  David Vann gives us an interesting and amusing look at a dysfunctional family in 'All Together Here' while Kevin Moffett tells us a story about two sisters who live in a secluded cabin in the woods, editing and embellishing wedding videos, and playing host to random men who stay with them for a while.

Etgar Keret contributes 'A Good One', a strange story about a man travelling to New York to pitch an idea for a board game, who gets so wrapped up in a dream he had before leaving home, that he is not able to behave as he usually would.  Keret is, through his stories in McSweeney's (not to mention his excellent graphic novel Pizzeria Kamikaze), becoming one of my favourite authors.

I was a little surprised to see that Neil Gaiman had contributed a very short story to this book in 'Adventure Story', a nice little piece about a son helping his aging mother clean out his father's affects, who finds a statue of great significance to a hidden Mayan people.  This story has more than a little touch of the Borgesian about it, which is always appreciated.

Adam Levin has a long story in here, which comes from his new book Hot Pink.  It's about a man who discovers a strange crack in his bedroom wall one day.  The wall is oozing out a sort of gel, and over a period of months, the man becomes obsessed with this, to the point where he feeds some of the gel to his dog to learn if it is poisonous, and begins to ignore all of his familial obligations.  It's good stuff.

The book ends with a large collection of writing from the Egyptian Revolution, as compiled by Noor Elashi and Daniel Gumbiner.  Most of these pieces are taken from the Internet, and contain a variety of op ed articles, newspaper columns and articles, blog posts, and memoirs from the days of Tahrir Square and the months afterwards, as the failures of the people left in charge of the country became more apparent.  Like the work done through McSweeney's Voice of Witness oral history books, there is an immediacy to these writings which help to convey the heady days of revolution.  This is an essential collection for historians who will be studying this unprecedented time.

In all, a very good McSweeney's, but when are they not?

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