Thursday, December 20, 2012

McSweeney's 41

Edited by Dave Eggers

It would seem I don't get tired of the type of contemporary fiction and reportage on offer in any given issue of the McSweeney's Quarterly Concern.

Issue 41 starts off strong, with a story by Thomas McGuane about a couple of old friends who have gone off on a fishing trip together.  They have kind of come to hate one another, and their crotchety old guide is a real handful - this is a nice exploration of character in a difficult terrain.

Jess Walter has perhaps the best story in this collection with 'The Wolf and the Wild', a story about a white collar convict who ends up volunteering as part of a program that has cons working in schools with children (because that sounds like such a good idea).  It's sensitive and remarkably well-written.

Deb Olin Unferth tosses some life-long tourists into a difficult situation in 'Stay Where You Are', which showcases how Western arrogance can play out, even among people who have spent decades travelling the globe.

Henry Bean's story 'The Virago' is a fascinating character piece about a Hollywood agent who will do just about anything to keep ahold of her tenuous grasp on her career, clients, and empty attempts at happiness.  It's both scary and sad, and very powerful.

In 'Robot Sex', Ryan Boudinot portrays a future where humans and robots work side-by-side, but where relations between robots are illegal.  It's an unlikely future, but the story is fun.

There is an excerpt from John Brandon's new novel, A Million Heavens, which really makes me want to read this book.

This issue ends with a collection of four pieces of Australian Aboriginal short fiction, and all are excellent.  They tend to explore inter-racial relationships a fair deal.  Tony Birch's 'The Promise' is narrated by an alcoholic who wants to get his wife and kids back, but wants his next drink more.  In 'S&J', by Ellen Van Neerven-Currie, a pair of girlfriends pick up a German hitchhiker who has never met Aborigines before, and is intent on exploring quite a bit of at least one of them.  Tara June Winch wrote 'It's Too Difficult to Explain,' a story about a young Aboriginal man who excelled in sprinting, but found failure in all other things, and eventually that too, as he tried to negotiate a relationship with a white girl from an educated background.  Finally, there is 'Tonsils', a wonderful story by Melissa Lucashenko, narrated by a woman who has taken in her daughter's friend, because the girl's mother is a drunk.  This story has one of the best endings I've read in a while.

In terms of non-fiction, there are two pieces of note.  The first is 'A Land Rush in Tehran', wherein Viveca Mellegard explores her memories and the modern reality of a formerly quiet, empty section of Tehran which is now filled with skyscrapers.

J. Malcolm Garcia, my favourite of McSweeney's regular non-fiction contributors, has written 'What Happens After Sixteen Years in Prison?', which follows two sisters who spent that long imprisoned for a robbery which they probably never committed, and which caused no harm if it did happen.  Garcia doesn't come out and indict the American justice system; he lets the story do it for him.

Each story in this book is illustrated quite beautifully at the beginning, and as with most issues of McSweeney's, this book is a pleasure to hold and open.

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