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Brief Encounters with Che Guevara: Stories Hardcover – August 1, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Six of these eight debut short stories feature Americans abroad, on modified grand tours stopping in Colombia, Haiti, Myanmar and Sierra Leone. As aid workers, soldiers and hangers-on, they grapple with some of the darkest circumstances in the contemporary world, their struggles made absurd by the ease with which they can and do return home. A few are honorably conflicted, including the NGO worker who betrays her diamond-smuggling lover. Others, including an indolent golfer who sells his soul along with his game, and a writer nursing an obsession with Che Guevara, draw less sympathy. Fountain seems to see both travel and introspection as amoral indulgences, which means there's serious writerly self-hatred here, since those indulgences feed his tales. The stories that avoid moral writhings for postmodern fable are his most memorable. When a Haitian fisherman discovers a drug runners' drop-off and tries to alert the police, only to find them driving shiny new SUVs, he turns next to the village's voodoo revelers"who have better ideas about what to do with the dope. Lively work, with much to detest and much to enjoy. (Aug.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Tales of Americans subsisting in the third world and discovering new ways to think and behave are commonplace. But Ben Fountain's lively, humorous treatment of his troubled characters earns generous praise. Instead of focusing his deft choices of words and inventive metaphors on a character's internal experience, the author uses his literary prowess to examine the uncomfortable complexities of life outside the United States. He also takes time to portray the "dunes of garbage … so rich in colorful filth" on Haitian streets. That may be enough to prove, as the New York Times says, what a "heartbreaking, absurd, deftly drawn" collection this is.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (August 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060885580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060885588
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #977,846 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steven Anderson on December 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I really don't like short stories very much anymore-especially the kind that appear in places like "The New Yorker" (which is otherwise an exemplary magazine) - for the most part, it seems to me that these stories are humorless, shapeless chronicles of middle class angst that start from nowhere and, if you actaully bother to finish one, conlude in a morass of pointless self pity- leaving this reader with only one agonized thought - "WHO CARES".

If those are your kind of storeies, do not buy "Brief Encounters". Fountain's stories are crisp, compelling and often mordantly funny - there's not a wasted sentence, really not a wasted word. And, best of all, THINGS HAPPEN, EVENTS TRANSPIRE, and you turn the pages to see what's going to happen next.
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Format: Hardcover
One hint that a writer of short stories or novellas or even full novels for that matter is the sense given to the reader that all of the information is so solidly shared that the writer must be speaking from autobiographical stance. Yet all we gather from the brief jacket bit about Ben Fountain is that he has won some impressive literary awards, is editor of Southwest Review, and lives in Texas with his little family! There is nothing to suggest a world traveler who has grown into the soil of the various parts of the world he molds into his stories. We are left with the conclusion that Fountain is simply a brilliant writer - and that is even more impressive.

Eight stories are served with exquisite writing technique, fastidious attention to detail, and an endless imagination for bizarre events that serve as a stage for characters at once participating in the darker elements of the world's doings while finding some sense of exotica on a planet that has heretofore seemed so blasé. He takes us to Haiti, explores cocaine trafficking there by both the innocent poor folk observers and the corrupt police force; he follows a devoted ornithologist in captivity in Colombia who gains insight into Revolution; he examines a strange relationship between a young lady and her older diamond hunting mate in Sierra Leone ('Being an American these days, that's sort of like being a walking joke, right?
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Format: Hardcover
The best book of short stories I have read in years. The usual complaint about literary short stories is that they concern themselves with insignificant domestic issues and ignore the larger world; and the most telling complaint about fiction that does address the larger world issues is that it is boring. Well, here is a writer who can enter into any part of the Third World, however remote, however alien to our Western vourgeois life, and tell a story with dramatic power, in a language that is enviably concrete and vivid, with charcters pulsating with life, with suspense in the movement of the action painfully intense, yet without any tricks of the trade. I have never read such goo writing applied to such a world-view. Whether it is Haiti, Thailand, Sierra Leone, Columbis--this is the familiar territory of human character, for better and worse. With such books as this, reading becomes the real staff of life.
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Format: Hardcover
This debut collection is welcome relief from the usual workshopped-to-death, navel-gazing, interior short stories that seem so prevalent in the U.S. Fountain likes to take his characters to parts of the world not particularly welcoming to Americans and put them in challenging situations. For example, he has a particular interest in Haiti (which he's visited approximately thirty times), and it forms the backdrop for three of the stories.

In "Reve Haitien" (originally published in Harper's), a chess-playing Organization of American States observer in Haiti following Aristide's 2004 departure agrees to help a charismatic guerilla member. The plot involves smuggling paintings by Haitian masters to Miami in exchange for cash the guerillas can use to buy arms. The story shares themes with several others in the collection, as the Westerner comes to sympathize with the oppressed native and tried to help. (The main point of interest in the story for me was the paintings, many of which were by artists whom my grandparents collected in the '60s. One minor snag in the plotline is that the paintings are described as being rolled up and hidden in a duffle bag, but most of the paintings by these artists in my grandparents' collection are on solid chipboard and rather harder to convey.)

"The Good Ones Are Already Taken" takes place in North Carolina, but also references Haiti, as a young soldier's wife eagerly awaits the return of her Special Forces husband from Operation Uphold Democracy (1994-95). The husband returns home greatly affected by his interaction with the Haitian spirit world, forcing the wife to work hard to understand. The material is somewhat over the top, but Fountain manages to make it work for the most part.
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