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on February 20, 2015
** Fair warning, this review contains material that could be considered spoilers. Read ahead at your own risk. **

I found this book for free on Amazon and thought it sounded interesting and it was short so I figured, why not give it a try? I’m glad I did. This was a series of short stories that don’t have a true beginning or end. They’re small little looks into people’s lives, the inner thoughts of a fat person, an abused wife, a man with a terrible secret, a serial killer on death row, a woman reflecting on a death and her part in it, and a woman dealing with the loss of her son by discovering a new life on the Internet. They’re little pieces of the person’s everyday life, little slices that, while short, tell you quite a lot about the narrators. And the tone is…hard to describe. It is many things at different times: witty, sarcastic, depressing, disheartening, angry. But mostly, it’s matter-of-fact. These people are accepting of their lives no matter how crappy. And while that doesn’t sound very appealing necessarily…I couldn’t stop reading. Something just kept drawing me in. I think it might have been the fact that these characters could have been anyone walking down the street, real people who I could meet any day. And some of the characters resonated with me. I saw myself in them or I found myself, if not agreeing with most of the characters and their choices, then at least understanding why they did what they did.

Big Girl: I rather enjoyed this opening story. While I’m not as big as the narrator, I am pretty darn close and I know exactly what it feels like to have people give you crap for your weight. And I agree with the narrator about how it’s easy to say you feel great in your body and yet in reality, you don’t. I love Peggy’s take on it and found myself laughing throughout. This is the only funny story really in this book and is the most light-hearted of the bunch. Be forewarned.

The Replica: This story was hard to read. The narrator is an abused wife who’s still with the abusive husband (who apparently has a thing for teenage boys). It describes what her life is like now and reflects on how it became like this. It’s very introspective and heartbreaking at the same time. She’s become so…accepting of her fate that you just want to yell at her to wake up and get out of that situation. And yet, things are not always that easy. I almost skipped the story once I started reading it, but I was so drawn in, I couldn’t stop.

A Small Act of Vandalism: Wow, definitely not what I was expecting. The small act of vandalism led to a much more shocking admission. I don’t really know what else to say about this story other than I can’t really judge the narrator because I don’t know what I would have done in the same situation.

One Night Only: I couldn’t help it. Once I read the title, the song from Dreamgirls got stuck in my head, which, oddly enough, went along with the story. The narrator is giving one last performance before his death in a way, even if he’s the only one attending. Gives you an insight in to how people like him (a serial killer) think. No remorse, little regret, and yet one of the lines got to me…”No, ya don’t hurt kids.” I mean, the guy’s a serial killer, someone without morals who one would think society would be better off without and yet…you don’t hurt kids. One rule, one moral he followed and believed in. That right there prevents you from just writing off the narrator as a murderer with no morals because...he has them. Not a lot of them, but they’re still there. And that makes him a two dimensional character. There’s more to him than just his crime, even if we see very little of it. And that fits in with these stories which are, in effect, just little glimpses into these characters and their inner workings.

Organ Failure: Extremely short, two pages on Kindle. This one was a bombshell in a way; happened quickly, with a lasting impression. Big spoiler alert here, so be warned. (view spoiler)

WYWH: Wish You Were Here. An interesting tale with a narrator I can relate to. The Internet is a place where you can reinvent yourself, where it doesn’t matter if you’re a 55 year old with a missing child or that you have depression or that you aren’t perfect. I know that I became much more open once I got on the Internet and less afraid to share what I really thought or felt. That’s why I think this is one of my favorite stories. Reinventing yourself on the Internet is a common phenomenon. In a lot of cases, people are way less judging and much more open on the Internet than in real life and the narrator discovers this. She starts “dating” a guy on the Internet and also uses the Internet to cope with the loss of her son. Now, I know the Internet isn’t always a “good” place and I know that doctors and others say that it’s not healthy to be so focused on a false you on the web. But reading this story, I didn’t really think that. I just kept thinking, hope it all works out for you, and feeling sympathy and empathy for the narrator. I know what it’s like to want to move on and forget. I think out of the whole book this is the story that would resonate with a lot of readers. It’s sad yet there is a sense of hope. This is the closest the book gets to a “happy ending” and it is a fitting end to the stories. I’m not a person who likes bad endings or bittersweet endings usually so it was nice to see a somewhat happy ending finishing off this book.

While reading this book, I was truly amazed by how the author got in the heads of vastly different people so well in so short a story. I would definitely recommend this to anyone wanting to try something unusual. This book definitely lives up to its name. I can’t wait to read more of Mr. Biss’ work.
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on July 24, 2011
At approximately 13,000 words, this is a short one. In fact, I read it off my computer instead of on my B&N nook. But it was still a very good read.

The Impressionists consists of six short stories about social issues such as self image, domestic abuse, family relationships, alcoholism, and crime. All of them are told in the first person. As short as they are, the stories are all hard-hitting and touching.

A couple of them deal with the self-confidence (or lack thereof) of women. "Big Girl" is about Peggy who bought a self-help book. As the title suggests, she is a big girl. Even though the book is telling her that it's okay and being fat makes her more accepting of people, Peggy calls bull and buckles under the societal pressures. It is a rather candid `keeping it real' piece. "The Replica" is about an abused wife reflecting on how she ended up the way she is now. Every morning, she looks at herself in the mirror and she sees a shell, a shadow of what she was. She used to have dreams and a love of life. Now, she depends on medication to numb everything out. "WYWH" - Wish You Were Here - is about a woman who found a new identity online. In her real life, she's still grieving over the loss of her son many years ago. It showed that through the Internet, she is able to pretend she is someone else (as many of us often do, I'm sure) to distract herself from the pain of reality. That one was really heart-wrenching.

The rest of the stories center a little bit on crime. And punishment. "One Night Only" was very interesting. A serial killer, about to get the lethal injection, spends his final moments interviewing himself. "Organ Failure" is a woman talking to a corpse at a funeral viewing. She was there when the person in the coffin died. She found that person unconscious, in a pool of vomit. And finally, "A Small Act of Vandalism", it is about a troubled man with a secret. He keeps his mother's ashes in a sealed jar but his memories are harder to bottle up.

What I loved the most about these stories are the voices. All of them are very different. The author did a fantastic job of giving them distinct personalities. They have their own troubles and basically, what we are reading is their internal monologue. I loved how it flowed neatly and the stories are just so solid. Very, VERY well-written.

Rating: 4/5.

Recommendation: To anyone who has time to spare. :) Really, it took me less than an hour to read through all six stories. And they are good ones!
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on July 28, 2012
If this had been the first collection of Andrew Biss short stories I had come across I likely would never have tried anything else he has written. These stories are serious that poor quality. However judging Biss' talent on this book would be a huge mistake as he's written some really good and unique stories. I would suggest if you're looking for a quick taste of his work you try A Slip of the Tongueor An Embarrassing Odour. I had actually experienced those two as free Kindle downloads, having never heard of him before and eagerly ordered some of Biss' printed work. The Impressionists though is one of those rare books that as you are reading you regret having forked over money for it. It's only 39 pages long, which isn't a problem in my opinion, but if something is that short, it's got to be good to justify the cost. Quality over quantity certainly can't be argued for with the Impressionists.

Six stories are squeezed into the 39 pages, all are pretty much written as the character talking to you style. Big Girl is the first and the character talking to you is what the title suggests, a large woman. She delves into the frustrations of being large and the way the public looks at her compared to say someone with a disability. She also points out the absurdity of the self help books telling overweight people it's okay to be fat. It's not that there's anything wrong with this story, it's just that all it is, is a rant. Some of the usual humour that you find in Biss' other work could have made Big something. However that's missing here.

The Replica has a woman looking in the mirror realising the person in the reflection after a lengthy role as a domestic violence victim is not the real her. This is really just a depressing tale, it just lacked the something that these sorts of stories have.

A Small Act of Vandalism is a struggle to get through. A guy (who you only realise is one about half way through) is depressed and angry at his dead mother after an accident with her Wedgewood home.

Only One Night is the best of the lot but still would be a filler in any other collection. Basically a man waiting his lethal injection interviews himself.

Organ Failure has a woman viewing an open coffin at a funeral, it is only three pages so to give anything else away will spoil it.

WYWH is about another depressed woman who has just become acquainted with the online world where someone wants to meet her in person.
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on April 22, 2014
This was a very disturbing set of short stories, disturbing mostly because they all feel real in one way or another. You can basically picture any normal average person experiencing these situations so at times it was rather hard to continue to read.

-Big Girl: Very sad and I’m sure it’s agonizingly true for many people out there. I almost didn’t finish the story but then honestly felt like it was my duty to finish it just out of support for those people who deal with these kinds of confidence issues.

-The Replica: A woman who realizes she’s basically become her own doppelganger by not taking control of her own life and allowing someone else to do it for her. A great commentary on how the general populace want to blame someone else for where their life is rather than taking responsibility for their own decisions in those circumstances. Deciding not to take the reins of your life is a decision in and of itself that must be dealt with.

-A Small Act of Vandalism: A man having to deal with the consequences of his actions towards his late Mother. A very poignant and tragic story of what people are willing to do, go through and live with when it comes to someone we love unconditionally.

-One Night Only: A man living out his final moments on death row like it’s a reality show with him as the star guest. Fascinating, I loved him recounting how it started and escalating to the point he was caught due to him getting lazy. I also really appreciated that he expressed regret for at least one of the individuals on his list. Goes to show you even serial killers can have moments of humanity.

-Organ Failure: My favorite of them all. A woman who takes her life into her own hands by not reaching out to protect the one who has been her biggest enemy, even in his most desperate hour. I feel like I can relate to this woman. Not because I’ve done the same thing as she has, but because I’ve been with people who’ve made me feel like that would’ve been the only way out. I’m one of the lucky ones though, I’m sure this happens more often than people realize or want to give credit to.

-WYWH: This one made me depressed. More because of the poor woman feeling like she needs to be someone else rather than what happened in the past with her son. I felt like this type of story is probably more common that people think.

I will be looking for additional work by this author. Although most of it was depressing and sad, it’s realistic and hard hitting which I prefer.
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on January 19, 2012
In Andrew Biss's superb collection of short stories The Impressionists there are six stories.

The first one is called Big Girl and is about Peggy who weighs in at a colossal 276 pounds. It is uncanny the way Andrew Biss has got so completely into the mind of an overweight woman and so accurately conveys her angst. At the end of the story I felt a sincere empathy with her and her plight, so brilliantly does Andrew Biss portray her. That he can convey such angst both with wit and empathy is remarkable. That she quotes from Nietzsche, Henry David Thoreau, Confucius, William Shakespeare, Andre Gide and Quentin crisp is a reflection of the erudition of the author, I think. Yet these quotations are woven so seamlessly into the story that they do not seem out of place.

The story contains some swear words, which I wouldn't normally like, but in this story Peggy is justified in expressing her feelings in this way and if you read this brilliant story and you definitely should, then you will see that they are perfectly justified within the context of the story.

This lead story reminds me of A Ball of Fat by Guy de Maupassant and like that story it is worth the price of the book, a meagre couple of pounds or dollars, all by itself. The other five stories in the collection are a bonus and what a bonus they are.

The second story is called The Replica. It starts off in the first person by speaking about the replica in the mirror. Then she begins describing her husband. Then it describes her life as a writer in the third person. I didn't like the constant shift between first and third person and ultimately I found this a depressing and dispiriting story. It is a story lacking Andrew's characteristic wit and charm. He is strongest when writing in the first person.

With the third story A Small Act of Vandalism the wit reasserts itself. Malcolm has his mother's ashes in a little porcelain box and he describes them as" a bit like instant coffee, you might say, only without the flavour." This is another story skilfully told in the author's authentic voice. He makes you really care and empathise with Malcolm and the dilemma in which he was placed. A really lovely story, lovingly told.

The fourth story, One Night Only is about a serial killer interviewing himself prior to his execution. It is funny in a gruesome way. Again the authentic voice of the author shines through this gritty story.
The fifth story is Organ Failure, which is set in a funeral home. This is a short, dark little story in which it is impossible to empathise with the woman telling the story.

The final story in the collection is WYWH, which is another very accomplished story, very witty and very poignant.

Like all short story collections it is a mixed bag, but a mixed bag ranging all the way from good, through excellent to masterly.

Replica and Organ Failure are good.

A Small Act of Vandalism, One Night Only and WYWH are excellent.

Big Girl is a masterpiece.

I like the way Andrew Biss, writing in the first person is able to express the feelings and emotions of an overweight woman, a young man, a serial killer and a middle-aged woman and to you cause you to empathise with them and to see them as real, individual people. This is a rare talent. I highly recommend this collection.
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on June 24, 2014
I'm a fan of this man's writing. I swear, the guy could write a grocery list and I'd probably buy it. These vignettes are not the traditional short story form and that's what I loved about them. No one can crawl inside someone's mind and dig out the guts the way this writer does.

You see and feel for these people no matter what their circumstance might be, because the inner dialogue is so true to life. My favorite was the killer who was desperately trying to maintain total control of his life and the very end. Very well done and of course, as with all of Mr. Biss' stories, the writing was top notch.
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on January 4, 2012
Couldn't read all of this- absolutely pointless. It was on the free list, had I paid for it I really would have been disappointed. I do like short stories, however these fell flat. I could not find any redeeming features for the stories I read.
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