FAT MAN IN HISTORY

Ten stories by a talented Australian: vividly imagined, cleanly written futurist fables that, despite faint echoes of Donald Barthelme and Ian McEwan, really are most akin to the work of such darkly progressive, sociologically-oriented science fiction writers as Harlan Ellison, Jack Dann, and Christopher Priest. Like them, Carey only occasionally focuses hard on a fantastical premise—a nightmare striptease that goes far beyond clothes ("Peeling"), a world in which unloved places and people dematerialize ("Do You Love Me?"); and these rather derivative notions are given nicely personalized, crisply matter-of-fact treatment. ("Exotic Pleasures," on the other hand—a fairy-tale-ish parable about a beautiful/ dangerous bird that is pure pleasure to stroke—belabors its obvious themes.) The real interest here comes instead with Carey's more overtly socio-political constructions, especially those that deal with revolutionary developments in eye-of-the-be-holder perceptions: in the slightly overextended "The Chance," a man struggles to prevent his beautiful lover from seeking an ugly, proletarian body in the genetic lottery; in the title story, a seedy house-ful of "Fat Men Against the Revolution" (fat is now, unfairly, synonymous with reactionary) becomes a microcosm of dog-eat-dog politics; in "The Puzzling Nature of Blue," a businessman-poet who has been responsible for unleashing a defective drug on a colonial island society (it turns the hands blue) winds up on the island himself. . . with fatally un-blue hands. And two of the best stories depend hardly at all on fantasy: "American Dreams"—in which a terribly simple premise (a man puts up a wall around his property and secretly builds therein a perfect model of his change-threatened town) is given a delicately moving texture; and "War Crimes"—the confessions of an "Andy Warhol of business" who coolly kills in his efforts to make a frozen-foods company more efficient. Carey does tend to overstate his points. His usually brisk prose sometimes lapses into precious self-consciousness. And apparent preoccupations (with adolescent sexuality, with the color blue) further constrict a generally claustrophobic, narrow atmosphere. But Carey has both a true imagination and an effective voice—and this intriguing collection indicates that there may be better, more substantial fiction to come.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1980

ISBN: 0679743324

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1980

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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