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The Dead Fish Museum Paperback – April 10, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ten years after his first collection, The Point, D'Ambrosio checks in with a gemlike set of eight stories in which wayward, self-deceiving characters set out to make order of their customary chaos—and realize they are more likely to find unhappy company than catharsis. In "Screenwriter," a major Hollywood player and lifelong depressive falls in love with an elfish, self-mutilating dancer during their stay in a psych ward, where she reminds him that the mechanics of love and mental illness are similarly repetitive. In "Up North," a woman's rape at 18 is at the root of her marital infidelities. During a trip to her family's hunting lodge, her husband is wracked by the need to discover the rapist (one of her father's hunting buddies, but which?) and accept the unhappy terms of his marriage. "The Bone Game" follows Kype, the listless heir to a huge fortune made in a forgotten past, and freeloader D'Angelo as the two drive west to spread Kype's maverick grandfather's ashes. When they pick up a Native American hitchhiker and detour to her Reservation, Kype's dissipation-as-coping-mechanism takes on a harsher, and deeper, cast. D'Ambrosio's dark, intense prose drives these stories like coffin nails. (Apr. 21)
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Review

“These evocative stories are dark and graceful, as deeply nuanced as novels. D’Ambrosio evokes lives of regret and resignation, and there’s never a false note, only the quiet desperation of souls seeking the elusive promise of redemption.” —The Miami Herald“Charles D’Ambrosio works a rich, deep, dangerous seam in the brokenhearted rock of American Fiction. His characters live lives that burn as dark and radiant as the prose style that conjures them, like the blackness at the center of the candle’s flame. No one today writes better short stories than these.” —Michael Chabon“D’Ambrosio, who should be ranked up near Carver and Jones on the top tier of contemporary practitioners of the short story, manages to channel Carver’s deftly elliptical manner and Jones’ wounded machismo. Yet in this collection he marks out his own territory, using only the most steadfast and difficult of a writer’s tools–craft and character–and his own marvelously skewed lens.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
“The stories that make up The Dead Fish Museum are lithe masterpieces of emotional chiaroscuro.” —Elle“Impossible to put down. D’Ambrosio’s prose is fluid, even insinuating. Sentence leads on to sentence with a momentum that mimics the twisted logic of madness, the small steps and sudden turns that lead people from well-lit streets and into dark alleys.” —The Seattle Times“Every other sentence is a masterpiece. Not a museum—type masterpiece, to be admired but not touched, to be treasured but not explored, but one you could find on a nature trail, created by the author but guided by the hand of God. . . . A reader will gain something rare after reading this book: a sense of wonder at the resilience of a human soul.” —Bloomsbury Review
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400077931
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400077939
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #589,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Myfanwy Collins on October 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In reading this collection, you get the impression that D'Ambrosio is a writer who understands pain--not just his own--that of those around him and that of our culture as a whole. The Dead Fish Museum is another name for a refrigerator that holds the bodies of fish pulled from a filthy river. Fish that will never be eaten, for they are too plentiful, too damaged. They are rotting.

The characters in these eight stories are those fish, and so are we.

Instead of being a culture which hangs onto rites of passage, rituals, ways in which we scar our body that show we have come through childhood--that we have made it into adulthood and are reborn--we are a culture which scars itself in private, which hides in closets and nicks its skin with razor blades, which takes burning matches to its flesh.

In short, we are a culture who holds onto our pain so tightly--indeed, is shackled to it--that the only way to express it is through violence--directed at others, directed at ourselves. And why? Because we don't know what else to do. We have lost our survival skills and escape is no longer an option--fight or flight means nothing.
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Format: Hardcover
I don't write many reviews, but I had to for this one. D'Ambrosio is a favorite author of mine and his books are few and far between (I'll be looking through The New Yorker for my next fix). One of the stories didn't capture me, but I'm not going to ruin anyone's time by saying which one - we all have our opinions. If I had to pick a favorite though, that would be The High Divide: trenchant emotions, so beautifully expressed. And the ending sticks with you. I had previously read this short story and I happily read it again. It's a book you won't want to give away.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
D'Ambrosio is a masterful author and the reader will find it hard to come away from this collection without exemplars of fine writing. In particular, he does fantastic work of reifying emotions, thoughts, and moods into behaviors--even the slightest gesture. These stories depict characters moving through their dilemmas. And while the dilemmas are well articulated and the characters are well described, they seem to wallow rather than move or develop. D'Ambrosio provides this fine collection which deserves a thorough read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I learned about Charles D'Ambrosio at The Ripe Fruit School of Creative Writing in San Francisco. We read Up North, a story published by the king of short story publishing, The New Yorker. We paid attention to his mostly present-tense story telling. I don't know if everyone tried to imitate his style, but I did. Suddenly my work is full of dialog and present tense. While Up North was a great read, so are the first three stories in this collection. The title reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut. D'Ambrosio's voice is altogether present, past, self deprecating, and lyrical.
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Format: Hardcover
"Charles D'Ambrosio's second collection of fiction is superlative. The Dead Fish Museum demonstrates that Mr. D'Ambrosio can write about anything he chooses. Indeed, his stories are so various that he remains mysterious; his author-personality cannot be caricatured into a marketable outline that would haul him into the American spotlight, where he so richly deserves to be. Mr. D'Ambrosio can write in a humble voice. He can write quiet stories. He can write busy stories. He can write about aggressive, troubled youth. He can quickly sketch a Chinese bodega, kill of the owner, and leave him, a bare resonance at the beginning of a long story. And he can create characters who care almost as much about God as Flannery O'Connor's characters: "If your mind's too great for you," Pete was saying, "you should just let God take it. That's what Christ did. He was braindead. He never thought on his own."

At the same time, Mr. D'Ambrosio can invent a Manhattan screenwriter who keeps "cranking out those bigtime Hollywood screenplays in order to bankroll a lifestyle that broke the sillymeter." He is one of the few writers who can satirize hipster consumerism without sounding small: "In the little syncretic boutiquey spiritual figurines lined up on the windowsill and the crystal prisms strung from the ceiling on threads of monofilament I saw the very same occult trinkets that had decorated every bedroom I'd ever been in." He can also write like a wise old poet, with a character reflecting, "Our life together took on a second intention," after he learns that his wife was raped as a teenager. Or, like a young poet, he can write about a woman's eyes that "When you looked into them, you half expected to see fish swimming around at the back of her head, shy ones."

The Dead Fish Museum collects stories of beauty, insight, and rare eclecticism."
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Format: Paperback
Hailed as a latter-day Raymond Carver, the master of the American short form himself, I picked up Charles D'Ambrosio's collection up with much anticipation. The first story, "The High Divide", however, didn't quite engage me, perhaps because I was a little thrown off by (what I interpreted as) the deliberateness of 'exoticising' the setting and the main character's circumstances with these opening lines: "At the Home I'd get up early, the Sisters were still asleep, and head to the ancient Chinese man's store." How the boy came to be a resident of the Home also seemed an attempt to shock with the quietly disconsolate way it is revealed to the reader. However, these cynical musings soon gave way to real awe and wonder as I got swept away by the brevity and precision of the prose and 'slice-of-life' vignettes D-Ambrosio so expertly crafted.

In the stories that follow, we are introduced to characters who struggle to live, or are sometimes so detached from the business of living they wither away at the edges of society. The middle-aged owner of a typewriter (repair) shop fights to keep his business relevant while providing care to his mentally-disturbed/deficient adult son, a suicidal screenwriter committed to a psychiatric hospital becomes embroiled with a ballerina who is addicted to burning parts of herself, and arguably makes an uneasy truce with himself by focusing on someone more damaged than himself. A man married to a fledgling actress spends time "Up North" with her family and friends while dealing with feelings of betrayal, and awkward machismo. Littered among the other stories are similarly unhappy individuals.
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