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Gates of Eden: Stories Hardcover – October 21, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition (October 21, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688159141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688159146
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,251,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Weaver on June 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Coen brothers.
Just say the words, and most moviegoers can tell you what you're probably in for.
Crime. Criminals. Mystery. Shenanigans.
The same holds true for "Gates of Eden," a collection of short stories by Ethan Coen, one-half of the brother team (bro is Joel Coen) that created such contemporary classics as "Blood Simple," "Fargo," "O Brother Where Art Thou?" and, most recently, "The Man Who Wasn't There."
With the short stories in "Gates," Ethan displays the tendency to irresistible characters that the brothers have put to such acclaimed use in their films.
And characters they are. Hapless schmucks, crooks who just don't seem to have a clue, oddballs and hitmen, all of whom are destined to win your heart. Or, at the very least, your funny bone.
The title story is probably my favorite, simply because it examines a career that is usually shucked aside by storytellers in favor of more glamorous work: The weights-and-measures man.
It's Joe Gendreau's job to make sure the gas station attendant isn't overcharging for or skimping on gas; a beating with a tire iron will keep him straight. All in a day's work, ma'am.
Like Joe says, "Standards are what make us a society. A community agrees. A gallon is a gallon. A pound is a pound. He who says fifteen ounces is a pound - he must be put down. A pound is a pound, or we go bango."
Sigh. Coen's use of dialogue makes me weak in the knees. Oh, to have that firm control of dialect.
Other faves in "Gates":
"Destiny": A knocked-out-too-often boxer agrees to take pictures of guy's wife in bed with a business associate, and ends up caught in between two gentlemen of less than civil reputation.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 12, 1999
Format: Audio Cassette
A collection of stories which not only herald a long and successful career as a fictional novel writer, but which also makes definable links to the brothers film work. Original and very, very funny, in a way only ever really created by a Coen.
The man is a God.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nick on February 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Ethan Coen's collection of short stories is a hint to his remarkable movies. The writer of such great films as Raising Arizona, Fargo, and O Brother Where Art Thou? brings his unmistakable sense of humor to literature with his first work of fiction, Gates of Eden. Coen's sense of humor is uniquely intelligent at times, stupid at others, and very often disturbing.
From mafia back-stabbing to a decapitated wife and every story in between, Coen makes the reader laugh and simultaneously makes the reader feel uncomfortable for laughing. One often finds himself asking, "Should I really be laughing at this?" It is upon this type of humor that the Coen Brothers built their film career. Coen overcomes the occasional lack of true plot development with intriguing character analysis and captivating dialogue.
This book is a very easy read even with the intriguing and interesting lanuage and dialogue. The stories are short enough for a single sitting and long enough to actually say something. I would recommend this book to anyone who has taken even the slightest interest in a Coen Brothers film. But take heed, many stories are not for the weak-stomached conservative. Be prepared for a few shocks and an interesting insight to the American way.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By q_lepowitz@hotmail.com on December 1, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Some of these stories hit familiar territory for Coen. Others are a departure. These others are less successful. These others tend to delve into a Jewish childhood fraught with bitterness. They tend to fail as Coen slowly feels out the audience reaction during the narrative, never quite going as far as he does in his usual world of gangsters, drifters and hitmen. It makes you wonder how biographical some of the stories are as he tries to be satirical without wanting to offend.
The stories set in familiar surroundings though are riddled with class dialogue and subdued brutality, both hallmarks of the great films he's penned. They are a mix of novellas and mini-screenplays that rarely fail to hit the right spot. Naturally he wanted to use the medium of the short story to broaden his horizons. To me it has just confirmed to himself that he excels at one thing and that is what he should stick to.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Mullin on October 11, 2001
Format: Audio Cassette
If you like Ethan Coen's wacky films, and I am among their biggest fans, then you are bound to enjoy most if not all of the subject stories. Unlike most audio collections, these stories are narrated by many of the actors who have starred in Coen Brothers films such as William H. Macy, John Goodman, John Turturro and Steve Buscemi. I thought that was a great touch, and unlike another reviewer here I thoroughly enjoyed the vocal talents, never sensing that the stars had been quickly handed the stories and told to "read" by the director.
As for the tales themselves, they were each very different, and ranged from typical Coen brothers slapstick crime stories to poignant tales of growing up Jewish in Minneapolis. I really enjoyed "Destiny",the story of an over-educated boxer with no fighting spirit, narrated by Matt Dillon, who becomes hopelessly involved in a battle between a couple of two bit hoods while getting pummeled throughout the story. "The Boys", a story of a father struggling to maintain his sanity on a camping trip with his two sons really struck a chord as well, since Coen displays his typical caustic wit and dead-on observations of family relationships.
The stories are not for everyone, sometimes the language can get a little coarse (especially the Steve Buscemi narrated "Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland", involving a music industry executive who tries telling the police the myriad of enemies who might have tortured his dog), and those easily offended may want to look elsewhere. Even here Coen's biting sarcasm is evident, as he skewers thinly-veiled real stars including Cat Stevens.
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