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Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives: Stories Hardcover – March 22, 2010
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From Publishers Weekly
Family members who act like strangers, and characters who eat dirt, undergo strange transformations, and find themselves drawn mysteriously to bodies of water form the heart of Watson's accomplished collection, but the latest from the author of The Heaven of Mercury is much more than the sum of its strange moments. In Vacuum, three boys who are afraid their mother will leave them begin playing with razor blades and jumping off the carport roof. In Carl's Outside, neglectful parents belatedly realize their son has disappeared. In one of the most eerie pieces, Water Dog Good, a man takes in his ethereal 16-year-old niece, who has been sexually assaulted by her father and brothers. In the title story, a teenager and his pregnant girlfriend's lives unspool after an encounter with a mysterious couple who may or may not be aliens. Watson is a master at hairpin plot turns, and his characters come alive on the page with minimal backstory; readers get deep into their heads and hearts, even when the weirdness surrounding them feels like something out of a David Lynch movie. (Mar.)
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Ward and June Cleaver have no place in Watson’s dysfunctional world of divorce, alienation, and domestic unrest. Here, eccentricity and madness are the norm, and life, even in its best moments, is unrelentingly bleak. In “Vacuum,” three precocious boys come to the aid of their beleaguered mother. In “Are You Mister Lonelee?” a despondent widower finds solace in wayward women and booze. A married couple fights so bitterly in “Terrible Argument” that the husband shoots himself in the foot. A divorced man has an awkward visit with his son, a young girl is abused by her guardian, and a woman is haunted by the memory of her stillborn child. In the title story, a newly married teenage couple’s lives are forever changed by a visit from two insane-asylum inmates. National Book Award finalist Watson’s powerful stories are a real downer, although he has moments of dark humor, like one boy’s account of his family vacation, in which a fellow traveler breaks the motel diving board and loses his toe. “It was fantastic,” the young man writes. “It made the whole trip.” --Allison Block
Top customer reviews
Just twelve stories, and all of them pretty damn good, although there is a kind of vaguely unhappy "sameness" to several of them, presented as what seem to be childhood recollections varnished with a thin but skillful veneer of invention; or tales of faltering marriages or relationships. Good FICTION, actually.
The three unnamed brothers in "Vacuum" seem unworried about the unstable nature of their parents' marriage, and you get the impression that they'll survive, no matter what happens. In "Water Dog God" you get Maeve, a wild child victim of incest, who shows up out of the wood with a pack of dogs. "Carl's Outside" gives us another child coping in the shadow of a troubled marriage. "Alamo Plaza" recounts a long-ago family vacation on the Gulf Coast recalled years later by the middle child. "Visitation" is what it sounds like, a divorced father trying to make his weekends with his son meaningful.
If I had to pick one weak story it would be "Fallen Nellie," the shortest, and a rather gruesome one that brought to mind Jim Crace's novel, Being Dead: A Novel, a book I didn't particularly love.
The strongest story is, I think, the title one, about two teenagers, the girl pregnant, with strange overtones of the supernatural or, perhaps better, "alien" worlds. It's a damn fine story which may leave you scratching your head wondering what was real and what was imagined.
I thoroughly enjoyed Watson's stories. He's still got it. If you like a good short story, you'll like this book. I'll recommend it.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER