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This Is Not an Accident: Stories Hardcover – January 30, 2014
Dark and introspective, this collection of stories dwells on the perversity of failed relationships and the destructive nature of the human psyche. From the woman looking to her boyfriend to excuse abuses in her past to the woman adopting a young girl in spite of barely being responsible enough to take care of herself, the characters here are all broken in some way, and all are very believable. A recently divorced man struggles with his status while at lunch with a new couple, and a woman grapples with the consequences of past decisions as she rekindles a relationship with an old flame. Wilder’s voice is crisp and contemporary, burying meaning in the depth of her characters’ thoughts and actions and leaving interpretation up to the reader. Among the short stories, “Creative Writing Instructor Evaluation Form” provides a humorous twist to the pattern, and the book’s one novella, “You’re That Guy,” emphasizes more broadly Wilder’s talent for character sketching. Readers familiar with the short stories of Wells Tower will find similar explorations of troubled relationships here. --Cortney Ophoff
“Off-kilter, wacky, disaster-prone: The characters in Wilder’s inventive stories are all these things, and they’re also unmistakably, disconcertingly familiar.” —O, the Oprah magazine
"Wilder’s observations are startling and effective, her descriptions clever and distinctive, and her writing stunning, impossible to ignore or take lightly; imagine Andy Warhol’s soup can meets Vincent van Gogh’s starry night. VERDICT Edgy, bizarre, exaggerated, this book can be exasperating yet very entertaining. Not for readers seeking sweetness and light along the lines of a Hallmark card–type read." --Library Journal, starred review
"The stories often pivot on the upending of clichés but also focus equally on the difficult equilibrium of relationships between all sorts of people. Excellent meditations on the human condition, well-suited to rest alongside the likes of Denis Johnson and Richard Ford." —Kirkus
"[Wilder’s] gifts include a knack for sketching her characters’ thoughts and the ease with which she draws readers into their stories. … Symbolically rich… Wilder draws on both humor and tragedy to deliver her insights.” —Publishers Weekly
"Dark and introspective... the characters here are all broken in some way, and all are very believable. Wilder’s voice is crisp and contemporary, burying meaning in the depth of her characters’ thoughts and actions and leaving interpretation up to the reader. Readers familiar with the short stories of Wells Tower will find similar explorations of troubled relationships here." —Booklist
"Wilder is by turns witty, poignant and insightful. She does not shy away from complex issues… She can also deliver a gut-wrenching clincher. Wilder is occasionally reminiscent of Pam Houston, another exceptional American writer… Wilder is a talent to watch.” –The Toronto Star
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Reviewing a collection of stories can be somewhat difficult, as many of you are aware. So, what I'll attempt to do instead is review the feel of the collection as a whole.
On the bright side, the cover is fun, whimsical, playful, and represents several of the stories inside. Let me clarify ... the cover represents the stories as in what happened, but not the emotion of them. Every story ... EVERY story ... left me with a 'WTF' feeling. There were a couple that, once I finished reading them, I'd have to mark my place, shut the book, and shake my head. Although, with this book being based on modern American life, is it really as far off from reality as I think it is? I would like to think it isn't based on real life. I cannot picture a cartoonist purposefully trying to get into a car accident just so she knows what it's like. I cannot imagine a man and woman kissing a roasting pig as their way of apologizing to each other. I could go on, but I don't want to give too much away. Let's just say that I find this fiction novel more unrealistic than other fictional novels I've read.
If you enjoy reading quirky, unusual, somewhat true-to-life stories, then this book would be for you.
*A hardcopy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
"It's a Long Dang Life" is a story of lost and found love. Laney, a grandmother, has reunited with her former boyfriend, who she believed was killed in Vietnam. Recognizing his shortcomings, and her own failure at an earlier marriage, she refuses to marry him. In what might or might not be mock despair, the boyfriend, Odd, takes her grandsons hostage in their backyard play house. A part of him wants to force her to marry him, but another part realizes it's all just a game for the grandchildren. He thinks.
In both of these stories, the woman is managing a relationship with a man who has a drinking problem. The topics of codependency, enabling, and relationships slowly ending invade most of Wilder's stories. "Three Men" is a story told in the format of a musical round. Wilder starts with the story of Jess' husband, an actuary who she calls "The Count". From there, we move a little backward in time, while still moving forward, to the story of Jess' brother. Then we go to Jess' father's story, to complete the round. The effect is really interesting, in that it tells a full story, focusing separately on three different people, all from the perspective of one woman.
If Lorrie Moore and Tobias Wolff are on your shelves, April Wilder will fit right in. So many lines were precisely right, accurate, and true. Wilder knows the subject of modern American relationships, and calls them like she sees them.
Wilder often pulls off the neat trick of telling light stories about dark subjects. "The Butcher Shop" is about a man who, with little assistance from his friends, is trying to come to terms with the end of his marriage and the lesser disasters that make up his life. While discussing Sammy Sosa's corked bat with a group of friends, the narrator of "We Were Champions" thinks back to the man who coached her softball team when she was sixteen and who, like her current boyfriend, occasionally had sex with her but was really more interested in baseball. In that story, I love her comparison of sex to "two people struggling to fit through a turnstile."
Much of the title story takes place in traffic school. After racing to Iowa for a date she made online, Kit hears a story about a man who hit someone without noticing and begins to obsess about whether she has done the same thing. Her plan to cure the obsession, like everything else in her life, doesn't work out as she expected, but she finds inspiration to change in an unexpected place.
In "Me Me Me," a woman who compartmentalizes her life to the point of schizophrenia tries to decide what to do about a slightly dysfunctional sister who wants to adopt a troubled child. A woman in "Christiania" takes a post-divorce trip with a platonic vegan friend and finds that the relationship is just as exhausting as her marriage.
Alternately sweet and sad, hopeful and realistic, "It's a Long Dang Life" is one of the best madcap family dramas I've encountered in short fiction. Lacey's boyfriend, Paul Odd, 65-years-old and aptly named, wants to marry her but he's in love with Miller Genuine Draft. Odd (who understands that "it's a long life when it's the wrong life, man") gets up and tries his best every day for as long as he can before passing out. Still, he's more fun than the members of Lacey's uptight family. The final paragraph sums up the joys and sorrows of life about as well as anything I've ever read.
The novella "You're That Guy" is a departure from the family dramas that fill the rest of the book. Lurking in the background of this sad macabre comedy are a dead dog and a man who carries a grotesque doll wherever he goes. While some of the characters are strange, we are reminded that people are "only improbable at a distance." Up close, they're just people.
The only story that didn't work for me, "Three Men," is not so much a story as three character sketches of the flawed men in a woman's life: her husband, her brother, and her father. "The Creative Writing Instructor Evaluation Form" isn't a conventional story, but it's quite funny.
Wilder's observant writing style is clever and sharp without calling attention to itself. In their own way, each story reminds us that whether or not life is an accident, we need to make it purposeful. Many of these stories are worth reading twice, to better appreciate the subtle thoughtfulness and good humor with which Wilder teaches that lesson.