From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Lonely and frustrated lives are explored in this new collection from the National Book Award–winning author of Dog Soldiers
. Stone's evocative prose treads through the murky waters of dead dreams and waning hopes, bringing out the pathetic and nasty side of people warped by addiction, sex, violence and time. Characters are almost blind to redemption, like the alcoholic professor-artist of The Archer who lashes out at a world that wants to celebrate him, or the Silicon Valley executive in From the Lowlands who has built a mansion, only to discover that no matter how much of the world you conquer, there's always something hunting you. High Wire, a story about a Hollywood screenwriter's on again/off again affair and friendship with a bipolar actress, condenses the years between the death of Elvis Presley and the rise of Bill Clinton into a wrenching treatise on love, addiction, success and failure. Stone doesn't just let his wounded characters whimper in the corner. He turns them loose on a world hard enough to knock them down but indifferent enough to not care about them once they're gone. (Jan.)
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These stories are no feel-good tonic. Stone does not dabble in the heartwarming, but rather mines the depravity of weirdos whose success resides in having not died by the end of the story. In the entanglements Stone crafts, mere survival is no small feat. The stories are witty and diverse and are all unified by some element of brokenness. Whether it be alcoholic painter, drug-guzzling screenwriter, or small-town attorney, each protagonist remains despicable yet demands a certain sympathy. Everyone is broken, but nothing has yet to fall apart. In “High Wire,” a story about the unraveling of a Hollywood set, Stone writes “Suffering is illuminating, as they say, and in my pain I almost learned something about myself.” Each character comes closer and closer to truth, but heartbreakingly, never quite turns the corner. You know they are on the right track though and that makes suffering with these characters enjoyable. The epithet for Fun with Problems could read: folks who don’t fail all of the time. --Blair Parsons