This won’t be a proper review, but I have to confess from the beginning my deep, deep admiration for this collection (should this post be cut short by one of Baby Smithereens’ demand, at least you’ll know the most important message). As soon as I finished this book, I got 2 other collections routed to me from Bookmooch. It’s a great discovery, and a chance encounter.
I didn’t know Ethan Canin had been hailed a literary star in short stories, indeed I’d never even heard his name before a lukewarm review by NYT Michiko Kakutani on his recent novel “America America” (given Kakutani’s usual bite, even lukewarm might be worth a read?). I needed a fix of short story and like for a wedding, something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue: I immediately had to get this short story collection from Bookmooch (as for the blue, the palace thief cover is blue in the edition I got).
The title story is the best in the collection indeed, a model in story-telling and character building (I heard it’s being made into a movie, but I don’t think it can remained as low-key and subtle on the big screen as on the page), but the first story, Accountant, drew me in: how often are you riveted by a story about a very dull middle-aged man who tells about his career disappointments? The tour de force even includes some twist about a baseball legging (as many foreigners I don’t understand anything about baseball, much less how a baseball legging can be special…) but I won’t spoil the suspense here.
It’s very rare indeed that a writer manages to picture without cliches the middle-aged man’s psychology and make them really into complex, aching characters. I would nearly say that Canin’s characters in this collection are the male counterparts for Alice Munro’s characters… And given how much I love Munro’s book, that’s no small compliment.