Odd but atmospheric. I don’t know if that combination works but that is the feeling that I felt while reading each story from this debut short story collection by Brian Booker. Well, sometimes, weird combinations can produce amazing results. And I believe, that’s what happened with this book.
The author introduces characters that are flawed, troubled at most. There’s depression, illness, bad dreams, paranoia, delusion, isolation, trials and folkloric superstitions. There’s this teenage boy trying to lose his virginity who met the mother of his friend who survived a plane crash, a boy who contracted encephalitis caused by an epidemic that swept his town is being haunted by dreams of a catastrophic flood, a husband and wife visiting a tropical health resort with the fear that the wife might be dying from an illness, a disease researcher meeting an uncanny nemesis on his way home, a father looking for his missing son in a remote mountain cabin where everything seems distant from what they seem to be as before, an old pharmacist from a coastal village who has to protect his blind nephew who found a mermaid from village folks and a teenager who was sent to an eerie therapeutic boarding school.
“It was a kind of spiritual camouflage: you disguised yourself in a cloak of misfortune to trick fate into passing you over.” – Are You Here for What I’m Here For?, Brian Booker
The seven stories in this collection revolve around (untrustworthy) characters full of doubts and confusion. The stories were a mix of realism and magical realism hanging readers on a dream like mood. I have to question if the things they are facing are real or were just crafted by their minds. It’s like I always have to decipher and navigate the minds of the characters to have a good understanding of what they are facing. This book made me think and analyze every story and situation to have a clearer picture of each piece. This is not mentally-grueling as it may appear from how I described it but the reader must just be in the right mood while reading it. For me, I advised to have this book read in one sitting. A momentum must be set and it must not be broken. Based on my experience while reading this book, I had a hard time getting back to this book after putting it down for quite some time for this book requires a certain atmosphere to be enjoyed. Much of like doing a meditation.
Each story in this book is meant to be savored. The book has a slow pacing and I believe it worked to its advantage. This book is not for everyone and it gets some time before it becomes totally immersive. There’s that suspense that creeps with every page though the stories are far from being creepy. Some of the stories were so detached from the real world which will make you doubtful. The author has a way with words that after finishing each story, I was left longing for more. There was like a void that was left within me that needed to be filled up.
Overall, this book was a detailed and unique collection, full of depth with peculiar and inventive writing. It’s a thought-provoking read about human’s ability to respond or cope to his present while thinking about his unsettling past and imminent future.
Note: My gratitude to Bellevue Literary Press for providing a review copy in exchange for a honest and unbiased review. 🙂 In no way was my opinion about the book influenced.
Author: Brian Booker
Source: Review Copy
Release Year: May 2016
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
No. of Pages: 256 pages
About the Author:
Brian Booker’s stories have been published in the New England Review, Conjunctions, One Story, Tin House, Vice, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a PhD in English from New York University, and has been a fiction fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. He teaches creative writing at the University of Chicago. Are You Here For What I’m Here For? is his first collection of fiction.