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Planet Grim Paperback – October 12, 2017
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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"Planet Grim pushes the limits of the imaginable and takes readers on an ever-expanding, sometimes horrifying, yet always entertaining journey, leaving us all wondering just where Behr might take us next." -- Atticus Review
"Alex Behr's Planet Grim is an honest exploration of human conflict, convolution, and confusion. Her pacing, unflinching gaze upon the grotesque, and her unique descriptive turns make this book a gripping and compelling read." -- Mom Egg Review
About the Author
Alex Behr has taught creative writing residencies at Portland, OR, high schools through Literary Arts' Writers in the Schools program. Alex's work has been published in Tin House, Salon, Nailed, Mutha, Bitch, Manifest-Station, and other publications. She received an MFA in creative writing from Portland State Univ., and has performed nationwide in the comedy show Mortified. She can be found online at alexbehr.com and on Twitter @alex_behr.
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This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
I've been dreading the day when I had to write about this book for a month or so now -- I just don't know that I'm up to it. While I can't say that I enjoyed every story, there was something in each of them that impressed me. I'd do better discussing this book over a beverage with someone who's read the stories rather than in the abstract.
In a few sentences -- at most a couple of paragraphs -- Behr gets you into a world with fully realized characters, completely different situations -- many of which you've never even thought about before. You will be disturbed, moved, saddened, surprised, fascinated, and occasionally, struck by a darkly comic moment.
I want to stress the "dark," -- Planet Grim is probably underselling it. There's not a lot o flight to be found in these pages. I'm not suggesting that you'll end up depressed at the end of every story, but you won't be chuckling or uplifted. These are real people going through some pretty real problems and situations. It's hard to slap a genre tag on these -- there's the barest hint of SF (but not really, you'll see); these would all nicely fit in with a noir novel (without the knight errant); technically a lot would fit in "Women's Fiction" (but . . . no); so I guess you stick it in the "General Fiction" section, but hopefully that doesn't mean you overlook it.
A piece of advice: do not read more than two or three of these stories in one sitting. Actually, I think the volume of stories in this collection is the biggest problem with it. If there were seven of these stories in one volume, I'd probably be raving about it and demanding more. As it is, I was a little overwhelmed -- there's just too much to deal with (which is why it took me 5 weeks to get through it).
I've said it before here, and I'll probably say it again, I"m not a huge short story guy. A few more collections like this could change me. There's not a dud in the batch -- there are a couple that I think I didn't fully appreciate (or even "get") for one reason or another -- but there's not one that's not worth a second or third read. Alex Behr can write, period. If you give her a chance, she'll convince you of that. I can't say that I enjoyed this book, I don't know if I liked it, but man, I was impressed with it, I'm glad that I got to read it, and I know it's some of the best writing I've come across this year.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.
This is a collection of twenty-eight short stories, and Alex Behr's writing style is fairly eclectic. This gives some of the stories an unfinished feel as if there's no real purpose to the story other than to listen to the narrator speak. We're getting snapshots of uncomfortable moments in unpleasant people's lives, which feels very unsettling while reading. There's a distance between the reader and the characters, even if we're shown their intimate thoughts and actions. Characters are sometimes never named or are framed in odd terms.
In "Wet," the unnamed narrator refers to her son as "the son" several times, and it's a disjointed retelling of the odds and ends left of her life after a divorce. "Teenage Riot" reads like diary entries, but there are no dates and no clear theme; the ending line of "I want something to love" is probably the closest thing that could tie it all together.
"Fairyland" is more like a traditional story that we're used to. Conversation flows, we see the world from Cookie's point of view and drawn into the hopes she has to make a friend and see Theresa as her sister. The events in the story itself are random, as life can be, with no clear resolution at the end, it does actually feel complete. "Some Weird Sin" feels like it's the start of a story, yet got cut off at the end; perhaps because the narrator is named Joe, and we belatedly find out that the nameless narrator in the previous story had a fake ID with the name Joe. Or perhaps that's just me. The fragmented sentences are less prominent in this story, and Joe is hopelessly lost: he's divorcing, he can't connect with his son, and his thoughts linger over the past as if it could save him.
"The Garden" is another story that feels less disjointed and more like a complete story, even if the ending is abrupt. It doesn't matter that we don't find out the narrator's name until halfway through the story because we learn enough about her character by how she interacts with others and sees them. The numb pain that she has at the end is echoed in the language used, so Behr's writing fits both the theme and the tone here.
"A Reasonable Person" is painful to read in contrast because we're deep in Mary's thoughts, and she is so very anxious. Everything makes her nervous, she doubts herself completely, and the distance she has from others is based out of fear. The choppy style that Behr used in other stories wouldn't fit here, and instead, the rhythm of Mary's doubts evoke that feel without the actual disjointedness.
"The Desperate Ones" starts off with an unpleasant high narrator, and then kind of slides into a freeform poetic sadness and desperation. I'm not sure it really works as an entire story because it seems more like a snapshot in time than anything progressing from a start to a finish. In contrast, "Zài Jiàn" is also a snapshot in time but carries more weight to it and feels a little more complete. Maybe because we get a bit of Hazel's history or her thoughts, or because there's a little more substance to the story than a sentence repeated for the ending.
There is some continuity, in that the Cookie of "Fallen Nest" is indeed the same Cookie of "Fairyland." There are some elements in it that echo earlier fragmented short stories, which made me wonder if these short stories were all meant to be interconnected, or were the fragments of a novel that didn't quite fit together.
These stories all have the theme of emotional disconnect from others, and sometimes the characters are even disconnected from themselves. Most of the time, I found it extremely difficult to like the stories and had to stop myself from skimming through them. The advertising blurb says that the stories "draw blood while making you laugh," but I couldn't laugh. They certainly draw blood, but I felt sorry for these characters, not pleased to be reading about their miseries.