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Paper Lantern: Love Stories Hardcover – June 3, 2014
The Amazon Book Review
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*Starred Review* Acclaimed for his exquisite and imaginative coming-of-age tales, Dybek has filled Paper Lantern with nine extraordinarily ample, mysterious, and enrapturing stories of incendiary romance and catastrophic longing. Music, a shaping force throughout Dybek’s work, takes center stage in “Tosca” as he cleverly and profoundly dramatizes the consequences of doomed passion and devotion to art in an indifferent world. In “Waiting,” he explores that state of limbo from multiple perspectives as the narrator, a social worker become writer, reflects on Hemingway, suicide, and a disastrous affair. In “Four Deuces,” an exceptionally complex creation, been-through-the-ringer bar owner Rosie tells artist Rafael her life story, a wild and devastating saga of gambling mojo and loss, love and aberration. Then in “The Caller,” we see Rafael caught in a web of imperiled women. The magnificent, far-voyaging fairy tale “Oceanic” pulls in many of Dybek’s signature preoccupations, from the mysteries of the deep to time, the church, Eros, the opposing fears of rejection and of losing one’s self in another, and the transience of beauty and bliss. In these sexy, surprising, haunting, droll, dreamy, and sorrowful stories, glorious word-by-word and magnificently symphonic, Dybek confronts the radiance and combustibility, fragility and fleetingness of love and life. --Donna Seaman
“Not only our most relevant writer, but maybe our best.” ―Darin Strauss, New York Times Book Review
“What I will remember about these stories . . . [are the] sudden moments that rise up out of a conversation or out of the surface of a mirror, or which suddenly appear, as shocking as being served an entree of predigested seaweed from the beaks of swifts: a little alarming, a little wonderful.” ―Meg Wolitzer, NPR
“Stuart Dybek's genre-bending short stories flout many of the basic premises of fiction itself. . . . What drives them is less the need to tell a story than to evoke--through closely observed, carefully rendered images and free-associative visual memories--physical sensations. . . . His writing feels painterly.” ―Shoshana Olidort, The Chicago Tribune
“Ecstatic Cahoots and Paper Lantern confirm Dybek as a virtuoso of the short story--a nimble, compassionate writer who uses precise, lucid, original descriptions. He shows us all we need to know and nothing more.” ―Valerie Milner, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Here are bold, frankly erotic tales of transporting force--stories so sensual someone, somewhere, must be reading one aloud to a lover on a rumpled hotel bed.” ―John Freeman, The Boston Globe
“To read [Dybek] is to be reminded of the resonance of small moments, the connections that arise and dissipate with the passing power of a thought . . . Again and again, we get a notion of what might have been, of life or narrative going in different ways.” ―David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“A modern master . . . Dybek is incapable of writing a dull page.” ―Clarence Brown, The Seattle Times
“Paper Lantern . . . deserves to be read and reread by those who cherish words and all that they evoke when they are carefully strung together.” ―Kevin Grauke, philly.com
“The nine stories gathered here have appeared, scattered across two decades, in the most prestigious American outlets for short fiction; they make for a remarkably unified and consistent collection. . . . A very fine book from a gifted practitioner of the short story form.” ―Publisher's Weekly, starred review
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Dybek uses his poet’s mastery of evocative language, odd perspectives and unexpected disjunctions to invite us to park our rational minds and revisit the worlds of spirit and imagination modernity has trained us to ignore. This isn’t a rejection of rationality, just an acknowledgement of its insufficiency for the task. He is not afraid—slyly—to invoke magic or weave masterworks from other art forms into his spells. (He’s considerate about it. In “Tosca”, where the opera of the same name is a major element, readers are off-handedly supplied with the essential details.)
These excursions beyond the polite consensus are not retreats into childhood fantasy or escapist fairytale. He reminds us that art and imagination mature too. In his hands those realms retain a potent relevance to the ecstasies and discomforts the daily grind sweeps under the rug. It isn’t existence that has grown cold and mechanized; it’s our habits of thought. Let me show you, he says; just this way. . . .
If the pabulum, empty technical showmanship, aridity and/or insularity that have dominated short fiction in recent decades haven’t entirely killed your appetite for the form, give Paper Lantern a try. There may yet be hope for a revival of the art that respects the dimensionality of the adult condition and addresses it with satisfying freshness.
There is considerable variety in the structures, styles, and narrative techniques of the stories of PAPER LANTERN. Most of them feature characters in their thirties who tend to be relatively hip. There is an abundance of cultural references. (Two of my favorite such references concern the classic pop song "Blue Moon" and Sviatoslav Richter's performance of "Pictures at an Exhibition" as recorded over an epidemic of audience coughing in Sofia, Bulgaria.) In several of the stories Dybek gives rein, temporarily, to a surrealistic impulse. Three of the stories are very good -- "Tosca" (which is very, very good), "Seiche", and "Four Deuces". Two are only fair. The other four stories, however, are strong enough to warrant five Amazon stars for the collection as a whole.
Dybek has a creative mind and he is an original, sometimes quirky, writer. He has an unusual ability to capture scenes, situations, or concepts in a few sentences. Example: "I had this sudden awareness * * * of how the moments of our lives go out of existence before we're conscious of having lived them. It's only a relatively few moments that we get to keep and carry with us for the rest of our lives. Those moments ARE our lives. Or maybe it's more like those moments are the dots and what we call our lives are the lines we draw between them, connecting them into imaginary pictures of ourselves." (Those sentences, by the way, are spoken by a young woman who, while riding in the passenger seat as her boyfriend drives across Iowa on I-80 late at night, is about to pull down her panties, spread her legs, and put on a show for him . . . and, unbeknownst to her, the driver of a semi in the next lane . . . with more than just passing consequences.)
Well worth the read.