Michael Chabon once said, "I scan the tables of contents of magazines, looking for Antonya Nelson's name, hoping that she has decided to bless us again." And now she has blessed us again, with a bounty of the stories for which she is so beloved. Her stories are clear-eyed, hard-edged, beautifully formed.Read more...
Michael Chabon once said, "I scan the tables of contents of magazines, looking for Antonya Nelson's name, hoping that she has decided to bless us again." And now she has blessed us again, with a bounty of the stories for which she is so beloved. Her stories are clear-eyed, hard-edged, beautifully formed. In the title story, "Funny Once," a couple held together by bad behavior fall into a lie with their more responsible friends. In "The Village," a woman visits her father at a nursing home, recalling his equanimity at her teenage misdeeds and gaining a new understanding of his own past indiscretions. In another, when a troubled girl in the neighborhood goes missing, a mother worries increasingly about her teenage son's relationship with a bad-news girlfriend. In the novella "Three Wishes," siblings muddle through in the aftermath of their elder brother's too-early departure from the world.
The landscape of this book is the wide open spaces of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. Throughout, there is the pervasive desire to drink to forget, to have sex with the wrong people, to hit the road and figure out later where to stop for the night. These characters are aging, regretting actions both taken and not, inhabiting their extended adolescences as best they can. And in "Funny Once," their flawed humanity is made beautiful, perfectly observed by one of America's best short story writers.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-03-17
- Reviewer: Staff
Nelson’s stories are frequently anthologized, and for good reason: they feature memorable, albeit often desperately unhappy, characters; evocative Southwestern settings; and a refreshing frankness about the emptiness of modern life. She starts her fifth collection (after Female Trouble) at the peak of her game, with the haunting “Literally,” in which a widower struggles to protect his children (and their maid) from life’s harsh realities. The final story is another strong selection, “Chapter Two,” about an alcoholic named Hil who diverts her AA group with tales—and lies—about an eccentric neighbor even worse off than she is. Lies also figure into the title story, in which a bored young wife’s “terminal unhappiness” manifests as a need to play havoc with the lives of her friends, and in “Iff,” a single mother covets her son’s attention and sabotages his love life. But there’s a downside to collecting such unrelentingly stark material in one volume. Readers may confuse characters, finding little distinction between the two middle-aged frenemies of “Winter In Yalta” and the remarried divorcee of “First Husband.” What begins as pathos looks more like self-pity by the end of the collection. Despite the collection’s individual gems, these unhappy families are too much alike. (May)