Browse Tag by short stories
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Review: Not Quite the Classics by Colin Mochrie

Not Quite the Classics (Viking Canada) was a book Colin Mochrie never intended to write, but I’m glad he did. Inspired by the improv game First Line, Last Line, Mochrie writes twelve short stories stemming from the first and last lines of classic novels and poems. Some are more successful than others, but all show the twisted sense of humour Mochrie is known for.15792001

My vote for strongest story is “Twas Not Right Before Christmas”, and not just because it references Doctor Who. The story, based on Clement Moore’s classic Christmas poem, mixes together major Christmas stories, as the narrator finds characters ranging from the Ghost of Christmas Past to Clarence the angel in his living room on Christmas Eve due to a tear in the space-time continuum. In true Christmas Special fashion, the Tardis materializes and the Doctor endeavours to set things right (“‘I hate you,’ said a green man, whose shoes seemed to pinch/ ‘I’m not that kind of Who, you idiot Grinch'”), but in typical Doctor Who tradition, the Doctor “can’t really explain […] it’s too convoluted” how he’s going to save Christmas. It feels like a great fanfiction.

Other stories I liked were “Franken’s Time”, based on Frankenstein, in which a farmer’s pet chicken attempts to reanimate its departed mate; “Fahren Heights Bin 451”, in which a noir-style private detective Burn McDeere is hired to find a set of lost car keys (“Frankly, McDeere, I don’t give a damn”); “A Tale of Two Critters”, the autobiography of (the unnamed) Wile E. Coyote and his nemesis the Roadrunner; “Re: Becker” (inspired by Du Maurier’s Rebecca) in which the unimaginative Morely agrees to an unusual task after his friend’s death; and “Moby: Toupee or not Toupee”, in which a struggling actor find a magical wig that turns his career around.

Mochrie clearly tries to capitalize on trendy genres or characters, as evidenced by “A Study in Ha-Ha”in which Sherlock Holmes attempts a career in stand-up comedy; “The Grateful Gatsby”, which is a mixture of Downton Abbey and Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories; and “The Cat and My Dad”, which is set during the zombie apocalypse.

Some stories fell flat for me. “Casey at the Bar” awkwardly rhymes its way through a disgraced Leafs goalie’s evening out as he attempts to score a date; “Waterhouse Five” is an unamusing story of an unlucky man’s prostate exam that clearly aims for cheap laughs; “The Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Fourth” attempts a mediocre fantasy tale about a Bilbo-Baggins-type reluctant protagonist who must restore the throne to the rightful ruler.

Unsurprisingly, Not Quite the Classics is not the High Literature its stories are based on, but that’s the point. Mochrie’s stories are not especially complex or subtle, but his writing is generally capable and reflects his brand of humour. Generally the collection was less amusing than I was hoping; I smiled and cringed in about equal proportion (but then, butt jokes are not my thing). He does a passable imitation of genre styles: “Fahren Heights Bin 451” is particularly competent example of noir, although “The Grateful Gatsby” and “A Study in Ha-Ha” have too many “my dear old chap”-type flourishes for my taste. Despite some forgettable stories, Mochrie’s talent for humour is evident. As Cleolinda says, if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like.

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8 New Books I’m Excited About This Fall

For me, autumn is usually a time of new school books and an increased reading load. This fall, however, marks the first year I’m not in class, and so to celebrate, I plan to use some of my free time to read for pleasure. Luckily, it seems like all my favourite authors are putting out new books this season. Some of them are out already, and some of them I’ve been waiting for for years. Here’s what’s on my to-buy to-read to-love list, in no particular order:

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1. Longbourn by Jo Baker (Random House; published October 8, 2013)

I actually just finished reading this one, and it was wonderful. Longbourn a below-stairs reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, featuring our favourite Bennets and new characters with mysterious pasts and secret ambitions. Baker creates a more complex household than seen in Austen’s work; if you like Downton Abbey, you will enjoy this novel!

 

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2. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh (Simon & Schuster; published October 29, 2013)

It’s no secret that Hyperbole and a Half is my favourite blog. One part webcomic, one part hilarious stories, Allie Brosh illustrates the weird and embarrassing things and relatable episodes that happen to her (must-read: This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult). Her posts about depression are honest and accessible. I’ve been excited about this book since Allie first announced it, and don’t expect to be disappointed. Hyperbole and a Half is a mix of posts that appeared on her blog and new content. Counting down the days!

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3. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Random House; published August 28, 2013)

This one is on my shelf, waiting to be read. A historical novel set in New Zealand, it follows a man trying to solve a number of mysterious crimes. The cover is my favourite of the season. The Luminaries has been shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Read it before it wins!

 

 

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4. Not Quite the Classics by Colin Mochrie (Penguin; published October 22, 2013)

I grew up watching Colin Mochrie’s comedy on TV, so when I found out he was publishing a collection of short stories, I was intrigued. In Not Quite the Classics, Mochrie takes the first and last lines of famous stories, including Dickens, Sherlock Holmes and, I’ve heard, a cameo by Doctor Who, and improvises a new and twisted middle. I’m curious to see whether his written comedy matches his wit on television.

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5. Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Random House; published August 20, 2013)

Marisha Pessl’s first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics (2006), was, for me, a book with a great first half and a dissatisfying ending. Despite this, I’m eager to read Pessl’s new book, a thriller about a mysterious (dead) cult filmmaker and his mysterious (dead) daughter, and the enigma that surrounds them. Postmodern and noir, Night Film contains website screenshots, news clippings and other pieces of “evidence” that propel the story. Reviews are mixed so far, but I’m hoping that it doesn’t disappoint.

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6. Allegiant by Veronica Roth (HarperCollins; published October 22, 2013)

Do I even need to say why I’m excited about this one? It’s the final book in the Divergent trilogy, and I love dystopian YA. In Allegiant, Tris ventures outside the fence with Tobias to try to discover a more peaceful life. This book is told from both Tris and Tobias’s perspective and I’m interested to find out how that affects the reader’s view of Tris and her society. Looking forward to the conclusion of this series!

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7. When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket (Little, Brown; published October 15, 2013)

My long-standing love affair with Lemony Snicket’s books (and alter ego Daniel Handler’s) extends to his new noir-style series All The Wrong Questions, of which When Did You See Her Last? is the second installment. Following a young Lemony Snicket through his V.F.D. neophyte training, this book finds Lemony searching for the missing Cleo Knight and the runaway Ellington Feint. Full of the usual incompetent adults, mysterious organizations and witty turns of phrase, When Did You See Her Last? promises to be a funny and satisfying read. Read the first two chapters here.

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8. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown; published October 22, 2013)

Donna Tartt publishes one book per decade, so everyone is very excited about The Goldfinch, her first novel since 2002. Her first book, The Secret History, was a massive bestseller and is my actual favourite book (and, as I’m sure you know, it’s hard for a book person to choose). Like all of her novels, The Goldfinch centres around death: this time, a young boy’s mother dies and he attempts to avoid being taken into a New York orphanage; he soon becomes obsessed with a mysterious painting. I’m trying to keep my expectations realistic, but I can’t wait to read Tartt’s beautiful, gothic prose again.

Let me know what you’re looking forward to reading this fall!

reviews

Review: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Knopf) by Karen Russell is a collection of delightfully weird short stories that questions the normal.vampires-in-lemon-grove

Each of the eight stories has an uncanny or supernatural premise mixed with black comedy: vampires suck lemons instead of blood to survive, enslaved Japanese girls metamorphose into silk worms, a teenager finds a prophetic seagull’s nest, a pioneer boy meets a strange man in a blizzard, American presidents are reincarnated as horses, a man gives advice for throwing an Antarctic tailgate party for the yearly whale versus krill deathmatch, another man’s tattoo changes each time his masseuse touches it, and a scarecrow effigy haunts a group of bullies.

Russell is like a funny Flannery O’Connor, expertly blending humour and horror into a new take on the Southern Gothic genre. Her writing is clear and clever, and, in places, causes laughter and goosebumps on the same page.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove offers a twisted perspective of the world that creates strange and entertaining insights into the ordinary and the paranormal.

reviews

Review: Other People We Married by Emma Straub

Other People We Married (Riverhead Books) by Emma Straub is a collection of charming stories about contemporary relationships and loneliness.otherpeoplewemarried

Each of the twelve stories in this book explores what it’s like to be searching for something more out of one’s relationships: some characters try to mute their discontent by hiring pet psychics, inviting their gay best friend on the family vacation, or hanging out with the squirrel-shooting neighbor, while others are trying to figure out to whom their love belongs (hint: it’s not their student, roommate or bird-watching instructor).

The stories are tender, witty, wrenching and, dare I say it, even reminiscent of Salinger. Straub’s style is spare and graceful, allowing for subtle feeling and wisdom to shine through. In each story, characters struggle to resolve the awkwardness that comes with loving someone too much, or more frequently, not enough, suggesting that the world is a place of kindhearted tyranny in which the best you can expect is disappointment.

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This review originally appeared as “Terribly Human” in Geist 87.