Mini-Reviews: Faber Stories Pt. 9 (Plus Series Ranking!)

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.

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.”

 

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Concluding thoughts:

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.

  1. Mostly Hero by Anna Burs – 5 stars
  2. The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes by Alan Bennett – 5 stars
  3. The Forester’s Daughter by Claire Keegan – 4 stars
  4. Come Rain or Come Shine by Kazuo Ishiguro – 4 stars
  5. Mrs. Fox by Sarah Hall – 4 stars
  6. Mr Salary by Sally Rooney – 4 stars
  7. Let the Old Dead Make Room for the Young Dead by Milan Kundera – 4 stars
  8. Paradise by Edna O’Brien – 4 stars
  9. Intruders by Adrian Tomine – 4 stars
  10. The Inner Room by Robert Aickman – 4 stars
  11. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor – 4 stars
  12. The Lydia Steptoe Stories by Djuna Barnes – 4 stars
  13. Ghostly Stories by Celia Fremlin – 4 stars
  14. Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath – 3 stars
  15. The Victim by P. D. James – 3 stars
  16. Three Types of Solitude by Brian Aldiss – 3 stars
  17. Fairy Tales by Marianne Moore – 3 stars
  18. Dante and the Lobster by Samuel Beckett – 3 stars
  19. An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah – 3 stars
  20. Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver – 3 stars
  21. My Son the Fanatic by Hanif Kureishi – 3 stars
  22. Daughters of Passion by Julia O’Faolain – 3 stars
  23. Shanti by Vikram Chandra – 3 stars
  24. The Country Funeral by John McGahern – 3 stars
  25. A River in Egypt by David Means – 3 stars
  26. Terrific Mother by Lorrie Moore – 3 stars
  27. Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine by Thom Jones – 3 stars
  28. Cosmopolitan by Akhil Sharma – 3 stars
  29. Giacomo Joyce by James Joyce – 3 stars
  30. The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Diaz – 2 stars

 

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Set Reflection:

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

28 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews: Faber Stories Pt. 9 (Plus Series Ranking!)”

  1. omg this is so cool! i didnt know you were doing this until now but as soon as i saw you were reading the Faber short stories i immediately thought of Mostly Hero and Mr Salary! Ive read and *loved* Mr Salary (Sally Rooney has yet to write anything that i havent absolutely loved) and after loving Milkman Ive added everything from Anna Burns’s backlist to my TBR so Im definitely gonna get to Mostly Hero at some point.

    The collection looks so good together, too!! congrats on finishing them all and im glad you enjoyed reading them ☺ I love short stories so much, though I tend to only read them when theyre in collections. Some of my fav short story writers atm are Julia Armfield (Salt Slow), Wendy Erskine (Sweet Home), and Nicole Flattery (Show Them a Good Time). Also, if youre looking for more short stories, The Stinging Fly, which is an Irish literary magazine, puts out some excellent short stories every year, and theyve recently made their entire online archive available to non-subscribers, so you can find a lot of great Irish short stories there 👌

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It seemed weird leaving the last one unfinished for so long, but I’m glad that letting it wait meant sharing the wrap-up with a bigger audience! 🙂

      I did love both Mostly Hero and Mr Salary, and have been recommending them often. I was a bit frustrated having Mr Salary as low in my ranking as it turned out, but there really were some strong contenders in this set and Mr Salary just didn’t excite me quite as much as Rooney’s novels, which I ADORE. I’ve also been meaning to read Burns’s backlist, and would be interested in seeing your reviews of any of her books- including Mostly Hero, of course, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

      I love how the different art for all the covers works so well together because of the matching color scheme! I really probably shouldn’t have bought them all, but they bring me such joy! 🙂

      Thanks for the recommendations! The Stinging Fly sounds like a GREAT resource, and two of the collections you’ve mentioned have been on my radar, so I should look into them properly! I really like short stories but have been struggling in recent years to pick up one-author collections for some reason. Picking up this Faber set last year was meant to jumpstart me back into short story reading, and suddenly I’m in the mood to get back to that goal!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m definitely planning on reading Mostly Hero soon, I’ve just been looking for the right time to start it since I need to be in a very specific mindset to read Anna Burns’s work lol. Her writing is very demanding, and my brain can’t always keep up with it haha. I really do love her writing though so I’ll try to get to it soon!

        Yes! The Stinging Fly is like one of the top notch places to find short stories, especially written by Irish authors, so you’ll definitely find some great ones there. 🙂

        I typically have the opposite problem: I struggle with anthologies because I tend to be drawn to one-author collections. For me if I like the author’s writing then chances are I’ll like their whole collection. But for anthologies I tend to find the stories hit or miss, which is I guess to be expected from a collection with various authors.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s very understandable, Burns’s writing does take some mental work! I did find Mostly Hero a bit easier to follow and more immediately gripping than Milkman, but the style is definitely similar. I hope you’ll love it!

        That’s great! One can never read too many Irish authors, imo. I’d love to check out more of them. 🙂

        That’s interesting! I can definitely see your point, and there were certainly authors in this set that I was sad to leave behind after only one story, whereas others didn’t really work for me at all. Plus single-author collections often have a common theme or at least style that can help a reader keep up momentum, whereas anthologies or more varied collections like the Faber Stories require recommitting to every single piece since they can be so different. In theory, single-author collections do make a lot more sense!

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  2. This is such a cool reading project!!! It’s really encouraging that all but 1 of the stories had a rating of 3 stars or higher! I love Sylvia Plath, Anna Burns, and Sally Rooney, so I definitely want to read their short stories now. Also, I read “The Cheater’s Guide to Love” in “This is How You Lose Her” and felt like I just didn’t get it at the time…so reading your thoughts on it was very validating!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I haven’t gotten a lot of traction with these in the US but I really did enjoy the experience. 🙂 I think the Plath, Burns, and Rooney stories are definitely worth reading! I’ve been recommending those three quite a bit, and I think if you already like those authors’ styles you’re likely to enjoy these works as well.

      Ah, I’m so glad I’m not alone on The Cheater’s Guide to Love! I kept looking and looking for some commentary on healthy relationships or Dominican culture and just not finding anything worthwhile. I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt, but it really didn’t work for me!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It was very rewarding to finally round out the experience. I hope you have a good time with the stories you’re planning to read, there are definitely some great ones in the bunch! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s interesting how these seem to reflect their authors’ longer works so closely – Kingsolver can be so didactic, and your review of Diaz’s short story reminds me of a lot of the problems I had with his The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao!

    I love Sarah Hall’s short stories – I don’t know if you’ve already read beyond Mrs Fox, but I’d strongly recommend her collection The Beautiful Indifference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting to hear! I haven’t read longer works from any of these four authors yet so I wasn’t quite sure how they would compare, though others in the series that I had more experience with did feel true to form. I’ve had Oscar Wao on my TBR for years, but my experience with this story is really making me rethink whether its worth the time at all! Especially if they share the same issues…

      I have not yet read beyond Mrs Fox but I definitely mean to, I loved the story! I put Madame Zero on my TBR after reading Mrs Fox and still want to get to that one, but will happily add The Beautiful Indifference to my list as well! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I thought The Beautiful Indifference was a stronger collection than Madame Zero, but she’s such a great writer, both are worthwhile 🙂 Would also recommend her novels The Carhullan Army and How To Paint A Dead Man.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Ooooh these books are so pretty! I wasn’t aware that Faber had these editions; now I want to find some myself! A lot of these names aren’t very familiar to me, so it might help me also get a taste of their work.

    Re Diaz’s story—that sounds like most of his longer works, though. I’ve always admired their readability but had problems with the machismo, sexism, and portrayal of women.

    I wouldn’t say I’m a particular fan of short stories unless they’re read aloud to me, like on the New Yorker fiction podcast or Selected Shorts. Some of my favorites from there are Pelican Song by Mary-Beth Hughes; Miracle Polish by Steven Millhauser; and the short story collection Monstress by Lysley Tenorio (the only one not on podcast). The stories I like tend to have a lot of compassion and tenderness for their characters.

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    1. They really are attractive! There were a lot of new-to-me authors here as well, and even though some of these stories are very small samples I did think it was a good way to try out some new writers and styles! I hope you’ll have a good time with any that you manage to pick up!

      Ah, that’s interesting. I’ve had Oscar Wao unread on my shelf for so long but haven’t gotten to it yet- this was my first brush with his work. I think he might just be the wrong writer for my taste if this story is an accurate example to judge by. I will admit it was a very quick read with a good flow though- it’s a shame that quippy style wasn’t paired with more appealing content!

      Tbh I don’t reach for short stories on my own often either- though maybe I should try them in audio! Thanks for recommending a few! 🙂 I had to read quite a lot of short pieces for school and those assignments taught me to enjoy the shorter form sometimes even though I still struggle with picking up single-author collections. I really liked that each of the pieces in this Faber Stories collection was completely different, that really helped keep it from stagnating for me. I like short story characters that I can form a quick emotional connection to, but I also like to be surprised by the plot! I can read hundreds of pages of a novel that’s very character-focused and love it even if nothing is really happening, but ironically I need there to be more going on in a short story!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! This was a very enjoyable journey in collecting, reading, and blogging. 🙂 And there are definitely some favorites I’ll be revisiting over and over!

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  5. What a great looking set! I love Kazuo Ishiguro’s work so I’m please to see his story ranked highly. They all look so good together, I’m tempted mostly from an aesthetic perspective! I wonder if they’ll release them as a boxed set?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really love the cover styling they chose for these stories! That definitely played a role in my collecting them all, ha.

      I’m not sure about the prospect of a box set! It would be a great move though, I’m sure more people would buy them that way than having to collect them all individually. If by some chance they’re still planning to release more volumes into the set they might hold off on doing a box, but it’s not been very clear to me whether 30 is the final total or not. It might be worth keeping an eye out!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll definitely try and keep an eye out for a box set. Without necessarily feeling like I should read the whole collection, buying all 30 seems a bit much but somehow a box set seems reasonable to me, haha!

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  6. I read a Barbara Kingsolver nonfiction work about how we should only eat food grown within 100 miles of ourselves. It was one of the most bullying, if-I-can-do-it-so-can-you sort of work, the kind that suggests if you aren’t just like her and subscribe to her beliefs, you’re just lacking discipline. I’ve never read Kingsolver again because I was too angry.

    Unfortunately, every single Junot Diaz story reads exactly as the one you reviewed. Surprising, right, given how many awards he’s received? I half wonder if we were so thirsty for non-white books that we took his work to be profound. And then he was accused in the #MeToo movement and it all made more sense.

    James Joyce. Well, I took a semester of half James Joyce and half Roddy Doyle and I never have any clue what the hell Joyce was talking about. Doyle I love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that’s a viewpoint I’ve not heard of before! As someone who lives on a farm I definitely think there’s some merit in growing your own food and appreciating what comes from your area, although it seems obvious that that won’t work for everyone! Even if all people were capable logistically it would limit them to only the things that grow in their area, which seems unnecessarily confining both regarding diet and culture. It could have been an interesting discussion I suppose, but sounds like she approached it with a terrible attitude!

      That is such a shame. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has been so beloved, and hearing that it reads similarly to this short story both turns me off of checking it out for myself and also leaves me questioning what so many people have found so appealing about it. Based on its release date coming around the time readers started demanding Own Voices work and such perhaps you’re right about non-white work being automatically upheld for that reason.

      That’s funny! I studied some of Joyce’s work in a class called Prose Style in college, at the sentence and paragraph level only, and did like what I read; I had no idea what was going on either though, and at the time I thought it was just because the excerpts were so small, but perhaps it’s just that all of his work is that way, ha! I’ve yet to read Doyle but I would definitely like to!

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      1. The Brief Wondrous Life is very much about this fat nerd whose sister, a sultry “loose” young woman, tries to get him laid and turn him into a Junior type. It was so weird to me. I did get to know more about the dictator at the time, Trujillo, but could have gotten that elsewhere.

        Roddy Doyle is so funny, and because a lot of the work is dialogue, it reads pretty fast. The Barrytown trilogy is a riot, but a more serious novel is The Woman Who Walked into Doors, which I taught to college freshman and got a lot of discussion from it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oscar Wao is sounding less appealing all the time. :/

        Thanks for mentioning a few of Doyle’s works! I’ll have to look them up and see which feels like a better place for me to start. I’d definitely like to check out his writing!

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