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American Innovations: Stories Hardcover – May 6, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (May 6, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374280479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374280475
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

American Innovations: Stories


Rivka Galchen
Charles Bock on Rivka Galchen's American Innovations

For a number of years now the appearance of new work by Rivka Galchen in our best magazines is an event in the literary world. People talk about it on Twitter and share any links to on-line work. This book shows why and then some. Galchen’s prose is that rarest of doves, sui generis, product of a unique and feeling and uncompromising and original mind. The premises for her stories — for example answering a wrong number where someone has dialed thinking they’re ordering from a Chinese restaurant, and then taking the order — are often the kinds that perhaps a handful of writers might imagine; the stories, however, are emphatically singular. David Foster Wallace was like this. Helen DeWitt is like this. Think Murakami. Kafka. Indeed, American Innovations could not have a better title for Galchen’s new book of short stories; she truly is one of the high innovators of fiction working in this country at this historical moment.

Ten stories in this collection: according to the back cover, each is in conversation with some canonical short story (The Lost Order, for example, the book’s opening piece, reimagines Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty). All these stories do it with a female twist, giving us female heroines. My guess is, if you get the references or meta-conversational part of the stories, great, an already yummy cake gets a meta-layer of knowing and delicious icing. However, if, like this reviewer, you’ve never read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, nor many of the original inspirations for these remixes, it matters not a whit, your enjoyment of the stories on their own merits will be plenty rich. “The Lost Order,” begins

Charles Bock

I was at home, not making spaghetti. I was trying to eat a little less often, it’s true. A yogurt in the morning, a yogurt at lunchtime, ginger candies in between, and a normal dinner. I don’t think of myself as someone with a “weight issue,” but I had somehow put on a number of pounds just four months into my unemployment, and when I realized that this had happened — I never weigh myself, my brother just said to me in a visit, “I don’t recognize your legs” — I wasn’t happy about it. Although maybe I was happy about it. Because at least I had something that I knew it wouldn’t be a mistake to really dedicate myself to.

That first half of the first paragraph, in a fashion that is somehow seductive and deft (Galchen’s sentences and paragraphs invariably end up being carnivals of fun), lays the groundwork to establish our narrator as maybe the not most reliable egg. Still, on page one she answers a call to her home, a wrong number from someone who, yes, thinks they are ordering Chinese take-out. Our erstwhile heroine takes that call and betrays nothing. Bizarre and intriguing, surreal, and fun, the piece could easily turn to slapstick. Instead, we gradually discover that our narrator is having a bit of a personal crisis, that both her career and marriage might be at a crossroads, and that she might not know herself at all. This is writing that is uncompromising in its intellectual mission, but at the same time, takes pains to keep its readers invested, caring even.

Another story. “The Region of Unlikeliness. ” A woman meets two older men at a diner; she falls in love with one, is revolted by the other; in the course of the story we learn the man she’s in love with may have travelled through time and be her son; the man she is revolted by may end up being her future husband, the beloved son’s father. Heavy mathematical principles and terms get thrown around. There’s also this dilly of a sentence: “I was accustomed to using a day planner and eating my lunch alone in fifteen minutes; I bought my socks at street fairs. ” Like “The Lost Order,” and a number of the pieces in this collection, “Region” first appeared in the New Yorker. “Sticker Shock” gives us a woman argues with mother about money from a sold house; “Wild Berry Blue” has a woman missing her dead father while telling the story of her girlhood desires’ awakening, via her first crush, on a heroin addict of a McDonalds worker; in “Once an Empire,” a woman comes home from the movies to discover all of her belongings are heading, of their own accord, down the fire escape. The magical stories still very much capture a slice of life, even as they send you beyond the outer regions of possibility (indeed, some do dance with the infinite). In two pieces, a mother causes all kinds of neurotic stress. Others have failing or failed marriages. More than one story mentions a dead father (as such, when we see a father’s care for his daughter in “Wild Berry Blues, it informs so much) and more than another one includes a palpable desire for a baby. Many are shaded with a sense of mourning, or that something huge and bad has just happened.

The more of American Innovations you read, the more apparent it is that these pieces, for all their flashy premises, are very much about internal lives in chaos, each of the woman in these stories are in some sort of crisis, less caught in a burning building than a life that has flamed out of control. They are going through something, and, it is equally apparent, these crises are not going to end with the end of the story. The stories in American Innovations may use irony, they may creep emotions between lines and paragraphs; but make no mistake are deeply, emphatically felt. Most of the time they are breathtaking. Their sum total, indeed, will knock you for a loop.

From Booklist

Galchen’s collection of short stories won’t be for everyone. But for readers who appreciate the absurd, her stories are exercises of uncommon poetry. Each story in the collection is inspired by a masterpiece of the form. The title story, in which a woman wakes up with a breast growing out of her back, takes Gogol’s “The Nose” as its point of departure. “The Region of Unlikeness,” in which a young woman befriends a pair of men, one of whom may or may not be her son from the future, is anchored in Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Aleph.” The stories are odd and unsettling but burst with brilliant moments of dialogue and observation. And humor, as when one character admits that the reality of her new career is in fact “highly nonoverlapping” with her preconception of it. In another character’s attempt to get a refund for an expensive heart-rate monitor, Galchen unfolds both the woman’s foolishness and the surreal nature of bureaucracy, which leaves us feeling caught in a Kafkaesque maze of roadblocks and stubborn illogicalities. The wrestling of her main characters—all women—with their gender further complicates their attempts to find footing in an unstable reality. --Lynn Weber

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Customer Reviews

There is gorgeous writing in these stories, as well as real humor.
The Emmy Project
Readers who enjoy literary fiction, especially short stories, are those most likely to enjoy the finely written stories in this collection.
Stephen T. Hopkins
I like quirky but I couldn't get excited about many of the stories.
Patty Jenkins

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen T. Hopkins VINE VOICE on May 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover
After I began to read the third short story in the collection of ten by Ricka Galchen titled, American Innovations, a growing impression hit me hard: this woman loves to write. Once I gave myself over to her quirky charms, I delighted in these stories, and found them witty, surprising, unconventional and fun. Readers who enjoy literary fiction, especially short stories, are those most likely to enjoy the finely written stories in this collection.

Rating: Four-star (I like it)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Wilson Trivino on July 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover
What caught my attention of this book was the funny cover of a cat balancing himself with all type of odd objects balancing it. But it what is most intriguing is inside the book. I have not read any of Rivka Galchen books, but in this one American Innovations she shares her unique way in which she sees the world.
Most of these tales are short and to the point but her writings is light and lively. She allows her imagination to take her in her everyday day duties to places we could only imagine.
This collection of short stories was a joy to read and is sure to give you a smile.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Abey I I I on July 19, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting collection of short stories. I really enjoyed reading them. The author wrote from a different perspective than any other book I have read from. All of her stories had the perspective of women who were all a little crazy. That is one of the things that makes the stories so fascinating to me. I liked her style but the characters were what made me enjoy this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alfred J. Padilla on June 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rivka Galchen has her own particular style (which, I guess, is true for all writers). I had enjoyed her previously published short stories, and therefore, these.
(Duplicate review, since I purchased this as a gift, and have no other way to get it out of my "to be reviewed" list)
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By Ksenia Anske on August 30, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This story collection is wonderfully witty and melancholy, or more 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.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is one of the best short story collections I've ever read - and I've read dozens. Many of Rivka Galchen's stories in this collection somehow manage to describe the sense of both living both within time and outside of it, conveying a reality that is both recognizable and surreal at the same time. There is gorgeous writing in these stories, as well as real humor. Buy this if you haven't already.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I left one star off because some of the stories didn't do much for me. BUT the others are very enjoyable. Ms. Galchen writes in a style that carries the reader off effortlessly. She has a gift for descriptions and also much insight (often presented with humor) about the strange relationships we can find ourselves in.

I highly recommend.

Ed
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