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Gates of Eden Paperback – November 9, 1999
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Small-time mobsters, private investigators, adulterers, and Hebrew-school students populate these stories written by Ethan Coen, the Oscar-winning cowriter of the Fargo screenplay. Read mostly by actors who have appeared in his films--including regulars Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, and John Turturro--these vignettes are set primarily in Minneapolis. There is a lot of fighting, farting, and the other f word in these tapes, disqualifying this audiobook for the fainthearted, but the listener is well rewarded with some smart, if brutal, writing. Standouts include the Matt Dillon-read "Destiny," a Mafioso story about a college graduate-cum-failed boxer whose poverty sucks him into an underworld rivalry, and William H. Macy's reading of the title story, a tongue-in-cheek noir featuring a Californian who is temporarily distracted from his work by a geisha goddess. (Running time: 5.5 hours, 4 cassettes) --Kimberly Heinrichs --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
The title may refer to Eden, but the characters in Coen's first collection of stories seem to come from anyplace but. The writing half of the acclaimed filmmaking duo (brother Joel directs) peoples his work with such wonderfully unsympathetic leads as a bumbling hit man, in "Johnny Ga-Botz," who gets himself exiled to Barbados, and a boy who terrorizes his Hebrew school, in "The Old Country." But it's not the comic villains so much as the absurdly petty types who give these 14 stories their color?men like Weights and Measures inspector Joe Gendreau, who, in the title story, walks around pondering such imponderables as "what kind of society has ours become, when one kind of lettuce is no longer enough," and tries to bust men "who laugh at standards." For all the small-minded selfishness of Coenland residents, the characters never stop being pitiful?and thus never lose their comic edge. We know that Hector Berlioz, Private Investigator (the eponymous character in one of two stories told entirely in dialogue), will not solve a real crime, but the hilarious non sequiturs he and his suspects engage in make them entirely appealing. Anyone familiar with Coen's films will instantly recognize his two-bit hustlers, and those well-versed in American-Jewish literature will easily identify the immigrant depictions. But many readers will find that familiarity is no obstacle to the enjoyment of this wittily absurd debut. Editor, Colin Dickerman; agent, Anthony Gardner Agency.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Just say the words, and most moviegoers can tell you what you're probably in for.
Crime. Criminals. Mystery. Shenanigans.
The same holds true for "Gates of Eden," a collection of short stories by Ethan Coen, one-half of the brother team (bro is Joel Coen) that created such contemporary classics as "Blood Simple," "Fargo," "O Brother Where Art Thou?" and, most recently, "The Man Who Wasn't There."
With the short stories in "Gates," Ethan displays the tendency to irresistible characters that the brothers have put to such acclaimed use in their films.
And characters they are. Hapless schmucks, crooks who just don't seem to have a clue, oddballs and hitmen, all of whom are destined to win your heart. Or, at the very least, your funny bone.
The title story is probably my favorite, simply because it examines a career that is usually shucked aside by storytellers in favor of more glamorous work: The weights-and-measures man.
It's Joe Gendreau's job to make sure the gas station attendant isn't overcharging for or skimping on gas; a beating with a tire iron will keep him straight. All in a day's work, ma'am.
Like Joe says, "Standards are what make us a society. A community agrees. A gallon is a gallon. A pound is a pound. He who says fifteen ounces is a pound - he must be put down. A pound is a pound, or we go bango."
Sigh. Coen's use of dialogue makes me weak in the knees. Oh, to have that firm control of dialect.
Other faves in "Gates":
"Destiny": A knocked-out-too-often boxer agrees to take pictures of guy's wife in bed with a business associate, and ends up caught in between two gentlemen of less than civil reputation.
"Cosa Minapolidan": Among other things, a mob boss wants a fresh stiff. But the guys he's got on the job ain't quite right in the head, if you know what I'm saying. And one of 'em's new on the job.
"Hector Berlioz, Private Investigator": Aside from his name, there's nothing out of the ordinary about this private investigator. Coen sets the whole story like it could be an old-fashioned radio drama, and the results are both familiar and fantastic.
"A Fever in the Blood": Next to "Eden," this is the best story in the collection. Another p.i. finds himself deaf in one ear psychologically after having the other one bitten off. Brings the "Twilight Zone" to mind, complete with twist at the end. Perfection.
Anyone in need of a quick pick-me-up or an enjoyably light read can do worse than Coen. Grab your teddy bear, hunker down under the covers after (or in the middle of) a long day and thank your lucky stars you don't lead these sorry souls' lives.
But even these talents couldn't completely overcome an obnoxious tendency in Ethan Coen's text. Although two or three of his short stories compiled to form "Gates Of Eden" were, mercifully, devoid of grossly overused simile and syrupy prose, the rest suffered. Even in the final story about the Dakotan/Minnesotan who has beheaded his wife the clever story is somewhat spoiled by this tendency. In it the simple rural Nordic/Canadien English (Fargo-esque) speech patterns of the narrator/protagonist transforms into sophisticated flowing, poetic prose during the climax of that story. The character seemed more elegant, more real when he spoke more simply. And the story would have been more powerful if he had kept to the more native sounding speech patterns thru the climax.
The detailed descriptions get in the way of some very fun stories. They take away the characters voice. About halfway thru the story about the California Weights & Measures employee, I lost the very engaging and funny visual/auditory image I had of the main character, replaced by the overwhelming, yet beautifully lyrical descriptive prose. Even on the audio tapes, William H. Macy's excellent reading of the story was overwhelmed by the display of artistic writing.
I think the book is worth reading, just be prepared to be frustrated when style gets in the way of a good story. The Coen's seem to always get the balance right in their movies (well, maybe Barton Fink go lost in it's style too). But it wasn't right in this compilation of short stories.