- Paperback: 276 pages
- Publisher: Harvest; Reprint edition (August 8, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780156032087
- ISBN-13: 978-0156032087
- ASIN: 0156032082
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,713,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Unkempt Pa Paperback – August 8, 2005
"New Yorker Courtney Eldridge creates dark chaotic worlds, then traps the reader inside this space until they have read the last word, thereby becoming her collaborator . . . Eldridge's [obsessions] are bloody, naked and screaming. It's hard not to look."
-SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
"[A] skewed, jittery, dazzlingly original collection . . . Neurosis is to Eldridge's stories what suburbia was to Cheever's: it's at once context, antagonist and metasubject. Her brilliant trick is to write in a voice so colloquially familiar that we don't automatically classify these crazy people as 'the other' but rather recognize them as our friends, our family members or even ourselves." -THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
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Without revealing any plot lines it is worth noting that the following neurotic symptomologies are portrayed beautifully in her book of stories: writer's block, fear of sharks, belief in little invisible elves in the night, fear of intimacy, hypochondria, fear of success, obsessive-compulsive behavior, alcoholism, eating disorders, paranoid behavior and promiscuity. The list is formidable, and so are the stories.
The author has an extremely acute sense of being well understood and articulated in both the beginning of the story and the end of the story. She talks about it in her first story. And in that regard, she has truly succeeded, her stories illustrate both wonderful beginnings and truly ironic and interesting endings; while some of her middles could have been 5 to 10 pages shorter and still gotten the same message across. Nonetheless, the book does stand out, particularly as a debut offering, as one which shows an author with a talented future.
Special commentary is deserved on the title story, "unkempt." Of all the stories in the book, this one truly just works right. It holds the reader's attention very strongly as she moves through this very wonderful tale; which somehow has a little something in it for everyone. This story is the cornerstone of a developing writing style that is tremendously powerful and also insightful, entertaining and deeply philosophical; yet unique to Ms. Eldridge alone. Here she shows what she can do as the writer, when she is so in touch with her subject that she can `dance it' as well as write it. So well, that it seems at least to be partially autobiographical; but only Courtney knows that for sure. The book is recommended for those who like finely written contemporary fiction.
Unkempt has seven stories and one novella, and presents an array of desperate and pathetic characters who either are trying to cope with the helplessness of their lives, or are completely and painfully unaware of it: a blocked writer who systematically erases everything she writes, a woman who thinks there are sharks in regular swimming pools, a lady who is unaware she has obsessive-compulsive disorder, a clerk at a retail store who is accosted by demented customers, an alcoholic mother who can't understand her daughter's behaviour, and ex-porn star who now is trying to keep her first "real" relationship afloat... these are some of the characters you'll meet in this darkly hilarious anthology.
The author's writing style can be quite smothering at times, as no quotation marks or new paragraphs are used to separate dialogue. It is a clever technique to infuse the same feelings of "confusion" and "desperation" to the reader as the ones the character is feeling. That said, Eldridge's writing is incredibly revealing and illuminating. In fact, the ability to combine these two aspects is Eldridge's gift. The following passage, taken from "Sharks," perfectly exemplifies the writing style used throughout the book:
"You honestly believe there are sharks at the Sol Goldman Y? I asked. It's not about believing; it's about my fear. This is my fear I'm talking about. I got that much, I said. Well, there you go, she said. You asked, I told you. No, you're right, okay. But tell me this, what happens if you get into a swimming pool? I asked. I don't unless I have to, she said. But if you went to a pool, wouldn't you be able to see the sharks, swimming around in the pool? I mean, wouldn't somebody notice that there was a shark in the pool? Or do they have a cloaking device, too? Very funny, she says, but the answer is no. No, you wouldn't necessarily see them. They just wait, she said. You mean the sharks wait somewhere in the pool? I asked, clarifying again. Yes, she said. Where? Where would they wait, the drain? I don't know where they might be waiting, see, that's the thing. They could me waiting anywhere. Of course, I said."
Some passages, like the one above, made this reviewer laugh out loud. Yet the message is undeniably troubling: people live in irrational fear these days, and this specific story can very well serve as an allegory for the present state of terrorism. Though Eldridge's style is different in many ways, it is in some aspects similar to Tama Janowitz's. Certainly both combine the sharp eye, dark hilarity, and askew angles of probing into the deepest corners of the human mind. If there's only one negative comment to say about this collection, that would have to be a certain lack of versatility. The stories are original, but the "voice" behind all of them at times sound the same. However, this doesn't take away the fact that Unkempt is an intriguing, fascinating anthology, one this reviewer is very glad to have read.