Whirr2005-03-07
You are not a Stranger Here, but Hope Is
My boss just lent me Adam Haslett's collection of short stories, You are Not a Stranger Here. I didn't like it.

This book is undeniably well written, and indeed this (his debut) was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize. However, I believe it to be a monumental waste of time. Consider: If life can be good, and there is the chance of hope, then these depressing an angst-ridden stories are all lies. Why should I waste my time reading lies about the world?
On the other hand, if these stories all contain truth--and the world is, indeed, choked with the ashes of despair, and there is no point after all, and all of our joys and ambitions are really doomed to end in failure--then the book is a waste of time because I shouldn't be reading short stories, I should be buying a shotgun, or a family-sized bottle of aspirin.
In each story he introduces us to interesting, well-rendered characters. He unfolds their lives, which are--invariably--at crisis points. Then he proceeds to show how they will never over come their crisis, and how their lives will end in misery. Thanks. Thanks a lot.He also kills a cat. For no reason. Bastard.
He also makes use, time and again, of that particularly irritating strain of luddism: anti-psychology. Character X is psychotic, or depressive, or manic. Character X is given an incorrect prescription. The stories proceed to celebrate Character X's choice to ditch the medication and live life to the fullest before, inevitably, grinding his life into tragic pulp.
Why? Because if Character X simply went to his doctor and said, "Look, my psychotic feelings are gone, but I feel depressed now, can we alter the dosage or try a different drug?" then Mr. Haslett wouldn't have any fancy prizes to win.
I know, I'll write a story. The story is about Bill, who needs oil for his car. The gas station attendant put in the wrong grade of oil, and the car doesn't run very well. Live for the moment, Bill! At night he sneaks out and drains all of that bad, wrong oil out of the engine. He is free! He drives his car around town for a week, and then the engine melts itself into a solid mass. How sad.
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