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Theoretical Killings: Essays & Accidents Paperback – November 16, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this collection of essays and short fiction, Church (The Guinness Book of Me) explores the gray area between morality and immorality with mixed results. The book is divided into two sections, Ethics and the shorter Aesthetics, which roughly correspond to nonfiction and fiction. The first entry, Practical Real-Life Responses to Theoretical Killings or Hypothetical Killers & the Men Who Love Them, is by far the most thought provoking of the collection. Church questions whether it is ever morally permissible to take an action that causes harm—in this case, the classic dilemma of whether to shove a man in front of a runaway trolley to prevent a larger collision. Church loses steam in the book's second part when he moves away from philosophical questions. His mini-lesson How Not to Tell a Story About Blood in a Bathtub—a list of do not's whose elaborations obliquely tell a story—falls flat, as do the fiction in the form of letters to Abraham Lincoln and TV's Bionic Man. While the ethical dilemmas Church grapples with are intriguing, their power is diluted by all the extraneous musings. B&w photos. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: UNO Press (November 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0970619065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0970619068
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,312,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Being a big Steven Church fan, but having never read this particular collection of essays, I was excited when the opportunity was given to me. I usually love Steven Church's out of the box, open and honest style of writing. So I guess I was a little surprised when this book didn't fulfill the expectations that are usually easily met when I read his writing. I later learned that Theoretical Killings was written while Church was in grad school, working on an MFA in fiction, but finding his niche in non-fiction. Which is probably why Theoretical Killings has so many fictive elements within it (which, to avoid a Frey disaster, Church explicitly states in his introduction, making it very clear what is fiction and what is not in his book): "This book is a collection of prose--most of it published previously in literary journals, sometimes in different forms--and it contains overlapping elements of fiction and nonfiction." A lot of the essays in Theoretical killings are experimental, with their forms, and with their content. It was refreshing to see Church's creativity, his ability to reject formality in essaying approach. My favorite essay was "Will the real K. Nelson Please Stand Up?" The story was funny and interesting, and it would have been hilarious to hear from any good friend, but Steven's writing really carried the piece. Because of the variance of form, he was able to explore internal, external, and common human emotions, and the sub-real nature of online communications. The essay was deep, meaningful, and the ideals stuck with me.

Overall, I think I would recommend this book if someone asked me about it.
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This is a collection of speculative, funny, dark, depressing, and thought-provoking essays that sort of thumb their nose (or flip the bird) at anyone who has ever tried to argue that nonfiction writing is somehow less imaginative than other forms of writing. Much of the book reads like David Foster Wallace, Mark Leyner, and a young Woody Allen somehow got together and had a baby constructed from their genetic material, and then they left the kid to watch Sophie's Choice constantly on a 20 year loop. I mean that as the highest possible compliment-- I kept finding myself smiling at the verbal dexterity on display, then cringing as I considered the hypothetical violence he kept presenting, as well as the fuzzy-headed, admittedly lazy thinking that comprises my own sense of ethics.
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