Even if it didn't contain a chomped ear and a decapitated head, Ethan Coen's debut fiction collection would resemble the horrifically giggly crime films of the Coen brothers (Fargo
, etc.). You've got the bleakly realistic Midwest settings: a frazzled dad driven crazy driving his kids on a camping trip in "The Boys." You've got the minutia of the middle-class life captured down to the last speck of "abstractly speckled linoleum" ("The Old Country"). You've got comically incompetent thugs (Mafiosi spectacularly failing to bring Mob rule to Minneapolis in "Cosa Minapolidan," a college-boy boxer turned private dick in "Destiny"). You've got ghastly, amusing caricatures of showbiz moguls: the record-company guy soliloquizing in "Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland" could be as real as his allusions to the personal foibles of Cat Stevens and Danny Thomas. Above all, you've got a mockingly self-conscious yet vibrantly original style of pulp-culture homage and spoofy, sharp, vulgar dialogue like nobody else on earth can write, except Joel Coen (who cowrites movies with brother Ethan).
In print, Coen can show off a descriptive gift that can't fit into screenplays. His fiction is bright and never boring, but not ambitious--it lacks the obbligato of grim mystery and lyricism that throbs in some of his films. It's on the light side--more like Raising Arizona than Miller's Crossing. It's also the most penetrating glimpse into a Coen brother's mystery-crammed skull since the revealing The Big Lebowski: The Making of a Coen Brothers Film. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
The title may refer to Eden, but the characters in Coen's first collection of stories seem to come from anyplace but. The writing half of the acclaimed filmmaking duo (brother Joel directs) peoples his work with such wonderfully unsympathetic leads as a bumbling hit man, in "Johnny Ga-Botz," who gets himself exiled to Barbados, and a boy who terrorizes his Hebrew school, in "The Old Country." But it's not the comic villains so much as the absurdly petty types who give these 14 stories their color?men like Weights and Measures inspector Joe Gendreau, who, in the title story, walks around pondering such imponderables as "what kind of society has ours become, when one kind of lettuce is no longer enough," and tries to bust men "who laugh at standards." For all the small-minded selfishness of Coenland residents, the characters never stop being pitiful?and thus never lose their comic edge. We know that Hector Berlioz, Private Investigator (the eponymous character in one of two stories told entirely in dialogue), will not solve a real crime, but the hilarious non sequiturs he and his suspects engage in make them entirely appealing. Anyone familiar with Coen's films will instantly recognize his two-bit hustlers, and those well-versed in American-Jewish literature will easily identify the immigrant depictions. But many readers will find that familiarity is no obstacle to the enjoyment of this wittily absurd debut. Editor, Colin Dickerman; agent, Anthony Gardner Agency.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.