This has been a long time coming! If you’re new-ish here, you might not even know that I spent last year reading 29 of the 30 individually bound Faber Stories, a series of collectible short story editions published by Faber & Faber. There have been 30 volumes released between two batches- whether the series will be growing further in the future has not been announced, though I believe the intent was to celebrate their 90th year of publishing, which is now past.
When I reached the end of the first batch (which included 20 stories) I ranked them all here in order of favoritism; now that I’ve finished the rest I figured I might as well update that list! But first, I’ll go over the four stories I haven’t reviewed yet. Three I read back in December, intending to read the last in January… your guess is as good as mine as to why this took me until May!
Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver. 3 stars.
An old Cherokee woman who ran from Cherokee lands with a new husband just in time to avoid the US government’s forced relocation of Native American tribes is now a great-grandmother whose ancient culture lives on only in her heart and through the stories she impresses upon her granddaughter. Her oblivious American descendants take her to visit her birthplace, but the modern town they find in her tribe’s old place is no more than an inauthentic tourist trap.
This is a lovely and sad little piece about culture stolen from native peoples, and that culture living on as best it can through memories passed down to further generations. It is also a scathing critique of Americans’ irreverence for native history. That said, between the blurb on the jacket mentioning the disappointing trip to the Cherokee town, and the first two-page “chapter” providing the concept of culture living on as a seed inside living descendants, the reader has the entire formula of the story already within grasp just 5% into the read. I didn’t find much payoff in reading the rest, with the Point and the method of making it laid out so early, even though the writing is propulsive enough. Furthermore, I did have a fair grasp going in on the unfair and atrocious fates forced upon native tribes by US settlers, which made this story feel a bit predictable. In any case, it’s a worthwhile point that Kingsolver is making, and she makes it well- it just wasn’t new to me at this point, which is no fault of hers.
Upon further inspection, this story was actually first published in 1989, so perhaps the trouble is simply that it’s a bit dated and would’ve had more punch for earlier readers.
” ‘I guess things have changed pretty much since you moved away, huh Great Mam?’ I asked. / She said, ‘I’ve never been here before.’ “
The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Diaz. 2 stars.
In this volume, a Dominican-American man is going through a breakup; his girlfriend has discovered he’s been cheating on her (to an extreme extent), and dumped him. His best friend advises that the best way to get over the heartbreak is to find another woman- both struggle to find and maintain healthy relationships with women.
If there is anything positive to be found in this story, it eludes me. The MC and his friend have little respect for women, including those they supposedly love. When their misbehavior does lead to heartbreak (and complicated parenthood), they pity themselves without taking any responsibility for their mistakes or putting real effort into ditching bad habits. Yunior (the MC) does try exercise as a coping mechanism and distraction, but when it leads to injuries the story seems to be suggesting that there is no point in trying to resist cheating and objectifying women, it only leads to further punishment. I kept waiting for this to turn into a commentary on how awful this sort of behavior and mindset is for everyone involved, but right up to the final sentence it seems instead to be a wistful longing for being able to cheat in “monogamous” relationships without facing consequences. The men of the story seem to expect to sleep with whoever they want, when they want to, drop those women whenever it pleases them, and pop in to see any resultant children only when it suits them. I found the humor contemptible, felt no sympathy for these men, and gained nothing from this story.
I hope I’m missing something. The only upside was that it was a quick read, at least.
Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce. 3 stars.
Only a story in the loosest sense, this little book is full of poetic vignettes about a man (clearly modeled after Joyce) in the midst of an affair with a student he teaches.
I think there’s going to be a very particular audience for this story, and I wasn’t it. There are a lot of references and similarities to other Joyce works, which I wouldn’t have noticed, not having read any others through- but nearly half of this volume is actually dedicated to pointing out and explaining these many ties. As a Joyce novice these didn’t have much meaning for me, though perhaps someone better versed in Joycean lit would find them more appealing. The prose is beautiful, though very dense and somewhat impenetrable. Poetry connoisseurs might also have better luck.
Ultimately I thought this was lovely, though a terrible place to start with Joyce’s work as a relative beginner. If ever I were to become more knowledgeable and interested in Joyce’s life and work, I’d want to revisit this story to see if it would have more to offer me at that point.
Shanti by Vikram Chandra. 3 stars.
Set in India, this is a set of stories within a story within a story, set in the wake of WWII in 1945. The main characters are a man whose identical twin has died, a woman on a futile search for her missing fighter pilot husband, and a couple of their friends.
The jacket copy claims that this is “a spiraling tale of loss, and two wounded people becoming something new.” Without that hint of direction, I’m not sure I would have found the themes of this one out at all; there are so many layers to this tale and so many details given; it felt both elaborate and strangely empty. By which I mean, the biggest obstacle for me here was simply the fact that despite reports of how these people were dealing with their grief, I never felt a hint of emotion. And thus, no matter how each of the individual narratives might have worked for me, it never quite came together to a meaningful point or payoff. I believe the innermost level of narratives is meant to capture some of the characters’ unspoken emotions, but the fact that this is all told through a friend of this man and woman rather than either of them or even a neutral 3rd-person narrator puts the action too far distant to be properly effective.
All in all I found this a rather frustrating read, with moments of beauty overshadowed by my difficulty in sympathizing with the characters at the heart of the tale.
“They would go home, and even if nothing was finished, not ever, they would batten away the memories and find new beginnings.”
Despite high hopes for at least two of these stories (Homeland and Shanti), this has turned out to be perhaps my most disappointing batch of Faber Stories yet. I don’t regret picking these up and rounding out my experience with this series of stories, but I had wished to end on a higher note. From this round, I’d say Homeland has probably been my favorite, and I’d read more from both Kingsolver and perhaps Joyce, based on these offerings.
To amp up the fun, my revised ranking of the Faber Stories, in order from most to least favorite! I’ve linked each title to its respective review set in case you’re interested in learning anything further about any of these in particular.
- Mostly Hero by Anna Burs – 5 stars
- The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes by Alan Bennett – 5 stars
- The Forester’s Daughter by Claire Keegan – 4 stars
- Come Rain or Come Shine by Kazuo Ishiguro – 4 stars
- Mrs. Fox by Sarah Hall – 4 stars
- Mr Salary by Sally Rooney – 4 stars
- Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead by Milan Kundera – 4 stars
- Paradise by Edna O’Brien – 4 stars
- Intruders by Adrian Tomine – 4 stars
- The Inner Room by Robert Aickman – 4 stars
- A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor – 4 stars
- The Lydia Steptoe Stories by Djuna Barnes – 4 stars
- Ghostly Stories by Celia Fremlin – 4 stars
- Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath – 3 stars
- The Victim by P. D. James – 3 stars
- Three Types of Solitude by Brian Aldiss – 3 stars
- Fairy Tales by Marianne Moore – 3 stars
- Dante and the Lobster by Samuel Beckett – 3 stars
- An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah – 3 stars
- Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver – 3 stars
- My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi – 3 stars
- Daughters of Passion by Julia O’Faolain – 3 stars
- Shanti by Vikram Chandra – 3 stars
- The Country Funeral by John McGahern – 3 stars
- A River in Egypt by David Means – 3 stars
- Terrific Mother by Lorrie Moore – 3 stars
- Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine by Thom Jones – 3 stars
- Cosmopolitan by Akhil Sharma – 3 stars
- Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce – 3 stars
- The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Diaz – 2 stars
I would read more of these. I’ve absolutely enjoyed my time with this series overall; it’s nice to come to each story fresh- a new author, a new subject, pretty packaging. My average rating is 3.5, which is a bit low to get excited about but far from terrible. I still think this is a great way to sample authors’ work in bite-sized pieces; I’ve added several of these writers to my TBR as a result of reading this series (though shamefully I’m yet to pick those additional works up) and I just love the look of them. It’s been a good run. I probably wouldn’t recommend reading all of them unless you’re a die-hard completionist (welcome to the club!), but you can hardly go wrong picking up a few of these that appeal!
Who’s your favorite short story writer? (Feel free to mention someone who’s not included in this set!)
The Literary Elephant