Brief Encounters With the Enemy
by Said Sayrafiezadeh

Overview - The first short story collection from a writer who calls to mind such luminaries as Denis Johnson, George Saunders, and Nathan Englander

When The New Yorker published a short story by Said Sayrafiezadeh in 2010, it marked the emergence of a startling new voice in fiction.

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More About Brief Encounters With the Enemy by Said Sayrafiezadeh
The first short story collection from a writer who calls to mind such luminaries as Denis Johnson, George Saunders, and Nathan Englander

When The New Yorker published a short story by Said Sayrafiezadeh in 2010, it marked the emergence of a startling new voice in fiction. In this astonishing book, Sayrafiezadeh conjures up a nameless American city and its unmoored denizens: a call-center employee jealous of the attention lavished on a co-worker newly returned from a foreign war; a history teacher dealing with a classroom of maliciously indifferent students; a grocery store janitor caught up in a romantic relationship with a kleptomaniac customer. These men s struggles and fleeting triumphs with women, with cruel bosses, with the morning commute are transformed into storytelling that is both universally resonant and wonderfully strange. Sometimes the effect is hilarious, as when a would-be suitor tries to take his sheltered, religious date on a tunnel of love carnival ride. Other times it s devastating, as in the unforgettable story that gives the book its title: A soldier on his last routine patrol on a deserted mountain path finally encounters the enemy he s long sought a glimpse of.
Upon giving the author the Whiting Writers Award for his memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free, the judges hailed his writing as intelligent, funny, utterly unsmug and unpreening. These fiercely original stories show their author employing his considerable gifts to offer a lens on our collective dreams and anxieties, casting them in a revelatory new light.
Praise for Brief Encounters with the Enemy

With impressive guile and design, Mr. Sayrafiezadeh uses the arrival and escalation of that war as the through-line connecting each personal drama. . . . These calculated echoes work to unify his] haunting book in a way that story collections rarely manage. Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

In his memoir, Sayrafiezadeh told the remarkable tale of a childhood steeped in doomed dogma. His stories . . . offer something more: a searing vision of his wayward homeland, delivered not in the clamoring rhetoric of a revolutionary, but in the droll monologues of young men who kill because they lack the moral imagination to do otherwise. Steve Almond, The New York Times Book Review (Editors Choice)
Sayrafiezadeh s eight interlinked stories are just as fulfilling as any novel you re likely to read this summer. The Boston Globe
A tantalizing fiction debut . . . that] menaces and mesmerizes. Elle
The recurring motifs include 99-cent American flags, putting in a word with the boss, idealistic Army recruitment brochures and unseasonable temperatures. Each time they recur they are more potent, and poignant. The collection is readable, and real, and hopefully a harbinger of more fiction to come from Sayrafiezadeh. Minneapolis Star Tribune
Funny and surprising . . . Sayrafiezadeh s simple style can fool you into thinking that his struggling narrators are plain and unassuming. They are anything but. . . . Each story compels you to read the next, and no character escapes unscathed. The Daily Beast"

  • ISBN-13: 9780812993585
  • ISBN-10: 0812993586
  • Publisher: Dial Pr
  • Publish Date: August 2013
  • Page Count: 223
  • Dimensions: 1 x 5.75 x 8.75 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.76 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Short Stories (single author)
Books > Fiction > Literary

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2013-06-24
  • Reviewer: Staff

A young American soldier combats boredom in the title entry of this collection of eight bleak stories about life during wartime. In “Victory,” a disabled supermarket cashier woos a kleptomaniac high school student from a wealthy family and watches as his coworkers get called off to fight. Jealous of the attention given to a friend returning from military service, a miserable call center employee takes out his dissatisfaction on his customers in “Operators.” “Enchantment” shows a man trying to readjust to his former life as a prep school teacher and his relationship with a married woman after coming back from his tour of duty. Set during an unnamed conflict and in unnamed cities, these stories revolve around the way war affects middle- and working-class Americans, whether they are leaving to fight or staying behind. Sayrafiezadeh portrays the repetitive monotony of depression and stagnation in his character’s lives with skill, and though this repetition can be hard-going, the collection as a whole illuminates the wide range of motivations that drive people to go to war. Often beautiful, sometimes lifeless, and almost entirely without hope, these stories reflect the listlessness of our times. Agent: Zoë Pagnamenta, the Zoë Pagnamenta Agency. (Aug.)

BookPage Reviews

Sharp bursts of fiction

In the art of the short story, every word is a nerve ending. In these four new collections of stories, words are put to their best use.


A foreign war buzzes constantly in the minds of the male characters in Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s first collection, Brief Encounters with the Enemy. Each of these young men is in a desperate place, working a dead-end job and trying to shake his stagnancy. By enlisting, they hope to align themselves with society’s central focus, to be the tip of the knife, but just as the weather in these stories is always out of season (it’s hot when it should be cold, cold when it should be hot), these expectations are never met.

In the crucial, climactic “A Brief Encounter with the Enemy,” a young soldier finds his deployment to be as pointless as the jobs back home. His restlessness becomes so unbearable that he kills a man, just for something to do. War offers the illusion of choice and action, but ultimately leaves the boys without the sense of purpose they so desperately desire.

And just when it seems that an entire generation is hopeless, the collection wraps with “Victory,” the story of a janitor who discovers happiness in the smallest, most harmless of rebellions.

Sayrafiezadeh first burst onto the literary scene with his 2009 memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free. Accelerating through the curve with characters who are colossally misguided and still likable—reminiscent of Junot Díaz’s Yunior—this is an astounding first collection.


In Bobcat and Other Stories, North Carolina writer Rebecca Lee expertly navigates the lives of characters—often academics—who are deeply and wonderfully flawed. Perception and desire—the kind of pure, single-minded desire Rilke wrote of—drive them, and they only gain control over their lives when given the opportunity to judge the lives of others. In these moments, Lee slows her pace to wade in the beauty and tragedy of it all, producing stories that are by turns languorous and unsettled.

In the subtly executed “Bobcat,” a hostess warily surveys her dinner party—wondering if one woman knows her husband is cheating on her, or if the guest who claims she was attacked by a bobcat is lying—yet never sees what is actually going on. In the bizarre “Slatland,” a creepy professor teaches a young girl how to exit her body—literally stare down upon herself—and this otherworldly trick morphs from a defensive tool to one that leaves her powerless.

Through these stories, the reader becomes a hunter, stalking the most dangerous sides of ourselves—often revealing something good underneath it all.


The stories in Aimee Bender’s latest collection, The Color Master, are linked through a pervading sense of the writer’s experimentation. As with the works of Gabriel García Márquez, they render the phrase “fairy tale” forgettable: Bender approaches her strange tales with restrained, self-aware observation and looks upon her characters with as much wonder as the reader.

In the arresting “Mending Tigers,” two sisters travel to Malaysia, where tigers with great lacerations down their backs appear from the jungle and lie at the feet of women trained to sew them back together. In “The Color Master,” a protégé is tasked with making a dress the color of the moon. And in “The Red Ribbon,” a woman indulges in a prostitution fantasy with her husband, and afterward begins to imagine commodifying all elements of her life.

The wallop packed by each story begs for each one to be consumed individually, but though Bender’s natural prose makes for easy reading, these are not bite-sized tales. They are undeniably filling, with a wealth of imagination that transforms each one into a compact novel.


In the mind of Ethan Rutherford, there’s something ludicrous and sparkling to our existence. In his debut story collection, The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories, he reveals it has always been this way by exploring moments of isolation, loss and homesickness.

In “The Peripatetic Coffin,” young Confederates volunteer to man the submarine Hunley, fully aware that it is a doomed mission from the start. “The Saint Ana,” the story of a Russian ship locked in an Arctic sheet of ice, opens with a man shouting, “Who’s peeing on me?” And seemingly out of the blue comes “John, for Christmas,” the story of a couple dreading the return of their son, which unfolds with all the restraint of Raymond Carver.

Tempered by Rutherford’s humor in the face of unavoidable tragedy, these imaginative stories are vital, present and alive. Rutherford—who is also a guitarist for the band Penny­royal—hasn’t landed on the exact story he wants to tell, as demonstrated by the fact that these tales jump from sleepaway camp legends to whaling expeditions. It would be no surprise if elements from these stories worked their way into a larger work—so pay close attention and hope for a novel both great and hilarious.

BAM Customer Reviews