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Yes, Yes, Cherries: Stories (Tin House New Voice)
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2007
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is a warning: Mary Otis' stories will break your heart. Now that you've been warned, order this book and prepare yourself for wrenching and exquisitely written portraits of loneliness and yearning, peopled with characters who want what we all want--love and acceptance and control over their lives--only they keep making the wrong choices.

Just one vivid and memorable example comes in "Stones," when in a split instant, Allison's desire to appear lighthearted and carefree leads her to throw a rock into the air, except the rock hits her ex-husband's girlfriend's child in the head. It is an unexpected moment, and one which leaves you with your mouth agape. The hopelessness of Allison's life hits hard, because such random things can happen to any of us.

Mary is such an assured writer, and on a sentence-to-sentence basis, her best stories can leave you breathless. She is the kind of writer who loves language and finds new ways to twist and mold it to illuminate complex emotion and the human spirit itself.

This collection is a refreshing debut and I'll be looking forward to seeing more of Mary's work in the years to come.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2007
Format: Paperback
The stories in this collection are incredible. I've already read them twice. It's the kind of book you wish would not end, and I can't wait for the next one. All the elements of great writing can be found in its pages. The stories are well crafted, full of interesting characters, funny, sad, beautiful, and unique. It's a work worthy of literary prizes and praise. Wonderful!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2007
Format: Paperback
In Walter Mosley's introduction to the 2003 edition of The Best American Short Stories, he talks about what he sees is the difference between novels and short stories. "A novel... is like a mountain - superior, vast, and immense... Mountains can be understood only by years of negotiating their trails and sheer faces... But if novels are mountains, then stories are far-flung islands that one comes upon in the limitless horizon of the sea... small, craggy atolls inhabited by eclectic and nomadic life forms that found their way there in spite of tremendous odds... I dream of the firmament that lies below the ocean, the mountain that holds up that small span of land."

There are both oceans and mountains behind the craggy stories in "Yes, Yes, Cherries." Otis peoples her stories with quirky characters who have all manner of limitations on their perceptions. As the narrator in one of the stories puts it, "Everyone here looks like they could use a little help."

Her examples of eclectic and nomadic life forms are experienced through vivid details that bring her characters sharply into focus, details that give the reader an understanding not only of the characters themselves, but of the vast world they inhabit. Their worlds obviously extend as far as Mosley's limitless horizon of the sea."

The stories in this collection are surprising, but somehow feel just right as they wend their way through many divergent paths of the human condition. They're a delight to read and a pleasure to think about. They nudge their way into the craggy atolls of our brain and settle there, in spite of tremendous odds.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
This startlingly clear collection of stories by Mary Otis is wonderful. From the first page, the writing caught me off guard, and continued to for the duration of the book. The sharp, intelligent and off-centered prose reveals surprising gems and barbs, details and turns of phrase that serve as delightful wake-up calls to the reader.

This book is also an example of great fiction about LA; the hills, the weird neighbors, the part time jobs and the infidelity...Topanga Canyon...and the sad, lost and part-time people living in the shadows cast by the bright coastal light. Otis is interested in lives that are not hitting their mark -- lives filled with mistakes, regrets, losses and failures and, blessedly, the author's wry humor.

At one point I was thinking a lot about Play It As It Lays, the Joan Didion novel, and one of my favorite books about LA...Otis has captured some of that same edge-of-the-world mystery, that odd feeling of reading about the seemingly invisible parts of life, where details become hugely important. This is all the result of her mastery of observation, of course.

Wonderful to experience such a great new voice working on the American short story. Can't wait for more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
I am not usually someone who reads short stories, often feeling like they do not allow me to really enter and explore a specific world for any length of time. This collection of short stories is the exception. I devoured this book in the same way I would a rivetingly good novel. Mary Otis's world is so complete, her characters so surprising and intriguing and the stories so connected, I literally couldn't put it down. I laughed outloud, I was moved, I was forced to reflect on my own idiosyncracies. Each story stays with you almost like a film would, with the images resonating long after. Mary is truly a brilliant new talent. I encourage all to buy this book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
These stories may be short but they are deep and rich. Each one is beautiful and gut wrenching, complicated and simple, fun and devastating!! The characters come off the page and into your soul. They are alive and kicking. The language is beautiful. it carries, weaves and stings without getting in the way. Mary Otis accomplishes an incredible amount in a very small space. I took my time reading her book - though one could read it in one sitting - because each tale has so much color, aroma and flavor and I wanted to savor each one on its own. The book is amazing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
A wonderful debut by a gifted, original stylist. Armed with little more than good intentions, the hapless women and children who are Otis' protagonists do their best to survive and to find love in a world, fragmented and twisted off its axis, which no longer obeys the expected rules. Otis' eye for the absurdities of contemporary life is razor-sharp and unflinching, but always informed by humor and compassion. In unique and surprising language, Otis presents stories to be savored and re-read. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2007
Format: Paperback
In Yes, Yes, Cherries, Mary Otis accomplishes the fabulous magic trick of tilting the world with her prose. You will put the book down and your carpeting, the content of your freezer, your ex, your life, will all look different for a moment. Ms. Otis's writing is remarkable and surprising, shimmering with rare brilliance and clarity. The characters in Yes, Yes, Cherries shine with that quality we look for in all great fiction: truth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2013
Format: Paperback
I've loved everything from Tin House publishing, but for some reason, Mary Otis' short story collection: Yes, Yes, Cherries has sat on my to-be-read bookshelf for years. Prior to reading the collection, I had not heard of Mary Otis. I've had such great luck with enjoying books from Tin House, that I just scoop up what they publish without reading up on the authors or content of the books. I never quite know what I am going to get.

Yes, Yes, Cherries is a short, quick read. It's easy to finish in a few hours, even if you slow down your reading speed to absorb Otis' beautiful prose. And you should slow down!

Otis writes stories that go to dark places, often with characters either engaging in taboos or living on the fringe of society. The striking thing about her characters, is there is no judgement. I felt neutral while reading about them, as if it was a character study and I was just waiting to see how it all played out. I think this might be considered a negative if the format wasn't short story, but as the stories averaged twenty pages, I didn't need to develop empathy with the characters. It was engaging enough to see how the various scenarios conclude.

I felt like all of the stories were written to provoke the reader into their own mind game of what would you do? The characters are thrown into various immoral activities, such as the woman who has an affair with her landlord, while the landlords mentally ill wife desperately tries to befriend her or a nearly homeless woman who takes a job at a dry cleaners out of desperation only to discover that her place of employment is a front for criminal activity.

Not all of the characters in Otis' stories engage in morally questionable behavior. She also writes characters that are awkward or normal characters written into uncomfortable situations. The very first story of the collection, Pilgrim Girl, is about pre-teen with a desperate crush on her next door neighbor. The girl, Allison, interacts with both her crush and his wife in really bizarre and uncomfortable ways. I was squirming while reading the story.

Otis has an off-beat take on the world and it shines through in her writing. It keeps it interesting and all of the stories in her collection are strong. As much as I enjoy reading shorts, I would love to see how her literary voice would translate to a novel.

Please visit my blog for more reviews and thoughts.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I bought Mary Otis' superb collection, "Yes, Yes, Cherries," after seeing Lorrie Moore's blurb on the front cover: "Funny, Brave, and Amazing." High praise indeed, and I couldn't agree more. The stories ride the same slim blade between humor and heartbreak as Moore's, but Otis has a most distinctive voice. Her evocative prose has a propulsive rhythm that carries you away on a freight train through her character's psyches. Reading her story, "Unstuck," I got rugburns from the "wonderweave carpet" that two foster siblings fumble around on, unsure of how to consummate their love. The mounting desperation of a mother seeking solace from her daughter's eating disorder in the arms of her local librarian is made palpable in "The Straight and Narrow." And the scent of "Pine Sol, cigarettes, and burnt teriyaki chicken," filters up of the page amid the bare knuckle boxing that breaks out when a man brings his date to his ex-wife's party in "Five Minute Hearts."

You'll see a little bit of yourself or someone you know in Mary Otis's stories. And you'll smile every time.

Highly recommended.
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