From Publishers Weekly
Scots author Faber (The Crimson Petal and the White
) practices a distinct and finally winning form of defamiliarization in these 16 short tales, creating characters with very low thresholds for overstimulation, so that the everyday, through their eyes, looks nightmarish or sublime. A man wakes in a pile of garbage in The Safehouse, strips off his fetid raincoat and then can't understand why, as he tries to figure out what day it is, the townspeople want to help him—even after he discerns his name, an address and a phone number printed on his T-shirt. In Serious Swimmers, a recovering drug addict is overwhelmed with love for her son during a swim at the local pool. The homicidal wife-beater on a rampage (in Someone to Kiss It Better) is oddly sympathetic as his misguided coverup goes very wrong. More fantastically, legions of Western businessmen are held in ecstatic captivity by a machete-wielding Miss Soedhono (Explaining Coconuts), while the grotesque 1861 demise of Alchester's richest man (in Flesh Remains Flesh) is freakish and deeply satisfying. Faber's elaborately imagined stories often end at a moment of tension or ambivalence, underscoring his characters' fragility and giving the book an uncanny coherence. (Sept.)
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In the 16 short stories collected here, Faber (The Crimson and the Petal, 2002) continues to demonstrate the full range of his talents. Most of the stories contain a fantastical or magical element that only serves to underline Faber's disquieting take on alienation in modern society, and the effect is somewhat like an episode of The Twilight Zone as penned by Ian McEwan. In "The Safehouse," an emotionally exhausted homeless man enters a shelter where the residents, emitting "an aura of consensual hopelessness," are required to wear T-shirts emblazoned with their psychiatric histories. In "In the Eyes of the Soul," a depressed single mom, who can't afford to move out of her violent neighborhood, agrees to purchase a virtual picture of a living garden to replace her view of the rundown, graffiti-laden store across the street. Not all the stories are as grim, and, in fact, the collection seems to move from dark to light, closing with the title story, a snapshot of a time when the father of two, on vacation with his family, experiences the happiest moment of his life; what should be overly sentimental becomes instead profoundly moving. Expertly crafted short fiction. Wilkinson, Joanne