American Innovations Stories eBook ☆ American

  • ebook
  • 192 pages
  • American Innovations Stories
  • Rivka Galchen
  • English
  • 11 September 2016
  • 9781443425933

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American Innovations StoriesBefore reading American Innovations I hadn't seen the cover blurb that states The tales in this groundbreaking collection are secretly in conversation with canonical stories reimagined from the perspective of female characters I don't know if understanding that beforehand would have altered my reading experience I am at any rate unfamiliar with Borge's The Aleph and Gogol's The Nose so I can only evaluate what I found on the page and it was a somewhat uneven experience For the most part these are uncomfortable stories veering often into the surreal with one woman's furniture running away and another having a breast appear on her abdomen but what was confusing to the mind often resonated in the heart Author Rivka Galchen definitely has a master's control of the English language as shown in this example with a woman speaking on the phone with her husband from The Lost Order We hadn’t always conversed in a way that sounded like advanced ESL students trying to share emotions but recently that was happening to us; I think we were just trying to keep a steady course through an inevitable and insignificant strait in our relationship“I’m sorry Boo” I say “I’m the one who should apologize” I am suddenly missing him very badly as if I have been woken from one of those dreams where the dead are still with us Being awake feels awful I language along and then at some point in my ramblings he says to me “I have to go now” and then he is gone I was struck by that I language along as the perfect encapsulation of this type of conversation and there were many many such striking moments throughout this collection There were also a lot of esoteric bits that lost me like I washed my face with peach scrub and took care as I generally do not to look into the mirror too gesamtkunstwerk ily Instead only in close patches Fortunately the NPR book review defined that for me as A German philosophical term about the total nature of the work of art first introduced by a mid nineteenth century German aesthetician named Trahndorff because I never would have looked it up; I was annoyed by the inclusion of a word like gesamtkunstwerk and the repeated use of the Kantian sublime because they seemed designed to exclude non academics from total understanding and that would be my biggest complaint More than anything American Innovations with its literary allusions feminist imperative and post post modern constructions seems elitist; written for professional readers ButGalchen left a but hanging at the end of a paragraph like that and I loved it one little word so weighty Butlike I said there is much in this collection that is emotionally stirring from that ironic frission a reader gets when you see characters lying or refusing to answer straight forwardly to the powerful way that Galchen captured a young girl's first major and unreuited crush on an inappropriately older man in Wild Berry Blue I begin to feel as if maybe I am going to cry because of these accumulated moments of being nothing That's what it feels like standing so close to this type of beauty like being nothingHe looks down at me startled then laughs abruptly Hi little sexy he says Then he laughs again too loud and the other cashier who has one arm shrunken and paralyzed turns and looks and then looks away againThese few seconds seem like everything that has ever happened to meMy milk somehow purchased I go back to the table wondering if I am green or emitting a high pitched whistling sound or deadI feel a whole birch tree pressing against my inner walls its leaves reaching to the top of my throat the awful sense of wanting some other life I know those feelings just like that but hadn't really remembered them until this short story so that's definitely worthwhile Perhaps if I could have identified with Galchen's other themes she repeatedly mentions time travel unemployed young women who have dead fathers and non understanding mothers writers who are also scientists attraction to men with unwashed hair acupuncture manatees perhaps if of her themes resonated with me emotionally I could have also connected with them intellectually And my final observation I read American Innovations because it's on the 2014 Giller Prize longlist meant to recognise excellence in Canadian fiction but simply being born in Toronto doesn't make Rivka Galchen raised in and residing in the States a typically Canadian writer and this book has nothing to do with Canadian themes If anything it seems perfectly representative of the Creative Writing Program at Colombia where Galchen is an adjunct professor and has much in common with her colleagues Siri Hustvedt and her The Blazing World and Gary Shteyngart and I wondered if her mention of Gary Gnu was a shoutout to him I wish Canadian prizes were truly reserved for Canadian books end rant A wickedly smart and deeply emotional collection of imaginative storiesIn one of the intensely imaginative stories in Rivka’s Galchen’s American Innovations a narrator’s furniture walks out on her In another the narrator feels compelled to promise to deliver a takeout order that has incorrectly been phoned in to her In a third the petty details around a property transaction detail the complicated pains and loves of a familyhe stories in this unusual collection also have secret lives in conversation with earlier stories As in the tradition of considering Wallace Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar” as a response to John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Galchen’s “The Lost Order” covertly recapitulates James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” while “The Region of Unlikeness” is a smoky and playful mirror to Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Aleph” The title story “American Innovations” reimagines Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose”Alternately realistic fantastical witty and lyrical these are all deeply emotional tales written in exuberant pitch perfect prose and shadowed by the darkly marvelous and the marvelously uneasy Whether exploring the tensions in a mother daughter relationship or the finer points of time travel Galchen takes great risks proving that she is a writer like none other today Galchen's stories are not satisfying in the way short stories are usually satisfying These stories are not tidy they twist in the middle heading in a different direction and then flutter out at the end But I found that I respected this way of story telling in that it felt like real life This is a funny conclusion considering the numerous non realistic elements in the stories Yet the stories remained true I remained entertained and intrigued throughout the collection The one story that will stay with me is Wild Berry Blue In this story Galchen pushes beyond the intellectual realm and delves into the emotional realm She describes the 9 year old's crush with wonderful detail and the protagonist's flip flopping in her mind elicited emotion and connection in this reader The other stories were interesting and Galchen's use of first person is commendable but because she stays in the realm of the intellect I'm not sure if the other stories will continue to resonate beyond today But maybe they will Maybe my ironing board will walk out of my life and I will think of Galchen and this wonderful collection of stories Galchen made all kinds of big splash with her first novel in 2008 Atmospheric Disturbances So readers have been waiting impatiently for a new book this is of short stories and they are international sciencey in the style of andrea barrett Servants of the Map Stories some surrealness so love but mostly none Lots of dead fathers and ghosts uality writing and stories like Deborah levy Black Vodka Ten Stories not ho hum shorts or at least not so memorable stories in something like baboon BaboonSo recommended for galchen and uality stories fans DNF I really struggled to get through the first 4 stories in this book And then I gave up I closed the book with a good clear conscience and put it away This is the first book in a long long LONG time that I did not finish It was disappointing and I really struggled with the thought of putting it down without completing it first Especially given that it's a collection of short stories and that it could always change up in the next one but I just couldn't wait to find out any longer The stories were dull and long winded and monotonous and went NOWHERE The writing was pretentious and tedious and unnecessarily splashy It was nothing like I expected it to be and I was disappointed in my purchase Money wasted You know what? I'm tired of this whole style I don't know what to call it even Talented female writers whose characters I can't stand who seem to be made of nothing but self obsessive neurosis I'll just go back and re read Margaret Atwood's short stories or something I can't believe so many reviews of the title story failed to see how Atwood derivative it wasI'm sure I'll read a few stories before I return this to the library but they don't hold together as a collection It's that lost anemic female narrator thing that I can't tolerate Many of my reviews here are off the cuff riffs that inform reviews that I write for other publications namely The Floating Library my books column for San Diego CityBeat Sometimes the review I post here is a cut and paste job from a published review This one is neither I've written my review and turned it in and I'm writing today to tell you that I'm disappointed in it and in myself I generally don't read other reviews of books I'm reading until I've finished writing the review I think that's standard practice If I have a problem with a book I'm curious to see if others found it problematic too; but I don't want my thinking about a book clouded by what other critics have written When I finished American Innovations there was a lot to read because it's the paperback edition of a follow up to a big debut novel that received a great deal of acclaim so all the major book reviewing outlets weighed in when it came out last spring and I discovered that my review wasn't all that different from the reviews I was reading which was disappointing In the jacket copy and promo materials the publisher teases the reader with the notion that the stories are contemporary retellings of canonical works of literature with all of the male protagonists replaced by modern women The copy goes on to point out how this story references Gogol and that story riffs on Borges etc But the jacket copy only lists three stories Did the publisher reveal the analogs to the other stories? Not as fas as I could tell Did anyone bother to figure out what the rest of the stories might me referencing? It doesn't look like it Instead each and every review mentions the same handful of stories And so did I I like these kinds of literary parlor tricks and I know other readers like them too But after reading this interview in Gawker I couldn't help but feel like I'd been conned While Galchen is open about the influences she says things that make me think that this conceit was cooked up after the fact as a marketing tool Perhaps that's cynical Galchen states that the idea for a collection of female protagonists began to cohere after 6 7 stories but is much vague about their antecedents At one point in the interview she says that she's not much of a planner which to my way of thinking flies in the face of the assertion of the book as a project that sets out to make use of other works What's so exasperating to me about all of this is that Galchen is a phenomenal writer with a very particular sense of humor that propels her stories to some very interesting places Her characters are oddly vulnerable and strangely fearless They seem to me like rare and special beings who process civil interaction and family dynamics in a way that's almost alien If I had to choose a single word it would be precious even though doing so incurs the risk of negative connotations I've never read stories like these before stories that seem crafted to showcase a certain way of living in the world that is not uite but almost at odds with things that perhaps we put too much value on possessions spouses family even literature if not in fiction then most certainly in real life I guess what I'm trying to say is I apologize for following the herd for letting myself be led by the nose to sniff the hothouse flowers blooming in their pots when there is so much else out there to take in celebrate and share I think I'm suffering from Gregory Maguire Syndrome with Rivka Galchen I'm just not I just don't I can't seem to The stories and the writing are strange and gorgeous like odd colourful exciting flowers that you see at the garden centre and then you get them home and try to plant them but your soil is all clay and the plants can't take root and wither and die My brain is clay BUT I did connect to Wild Berry Blue omg so true This story collection is wonderfully witty and melancholy or melancholy than witty filled with innuendoes that at times I couldn’t understand being originally not from America but sensed on some other level On a universal level On a level of connection with words and images that stayed with me like bright flashes of every day strangeness Simple strangeness of existence Things we do to fill our lives to think we know where we’re going when in fact we have no clue There are two levels to these stories The humor glaze upon the soft tender inner something that is sad and wondrous and lonely and lost sometimes Most of the stories are told from the point of view of a young woman sometimes a writer going about her life meeting people thinking ruminating Perhaps the funniest and my favorite story was Sticker Shock on affair of a family told through numbers house cost numbers insurance numbers year numbers It’s fantastic how underneath it all there was so much feeling and so much irony it made me laugh out loud In another story a young woman witnesses her furniture escape her apartment like it made up its mind and decided to leave her In another she gets tangled into a relationship with two men one of whom is the son of the other from the future And through all of them like a nerve is strung some kind of a longing for being for togetherness for love and yet there is never an answer Just like in real life All in all a delicious collection Beautifully written Of periwinkle blues and Kantian sublime and wit I'm glad I've gotten to a place where I can support other Rivkas in their creative endeavors How sad it would have been if my exceedingly silly ego prevented me from reading this collection It was so good Chekhovian in some ways And reading it in public felt like this wonderful inside joke with myself Rivka Galchan I wonder what your middle name is

About the Author: Rivka Galchen

Rivka Galchen born 1976 is a Canadian American writer and physician Her first novel Atmospheric Disturbances was published in 2008 She currently is an adjunct professor in the writing division of Columbia University's School of Art In 2010 she was chosen as one of the 20 best writers under 40 by The New Yorker