California Literary Review

Short Stories

Book Review: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

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May 1st, 2013

An enterprising Japanese capitalist, presumably in conjunction with the state, recruits women from all over the country to work at an innovative new silk factory, appealing both to their own financial need and to their patriotism. Once they sign the Agent’s contract, the women find themselves mutating into human silkworms.

Book Review: Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa

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February 11th, 2013

Ogawa begins by showing her readers the apparently boring, normal face of human society, and then slowly lets this face of normality slide back to reveal decomposition, death, and emptiness.

Book Review: A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts by Sebastian Faulks

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January 7th, 2013

If we could follow the mortal remains or spiritual resonance of a sport-loving soldier from the Second World War, an impoverished London lad from the time of Charles Dickens, a French servant woman of the Napoleonic era or a scientific researcher from a decade or two in the future, where might these trails lead?

Book Review: Astray by Emma Donoghue

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December 26th, 2012

Though some stories in Astray are more poignant than others, Donoghue once again shows herself to be a writer who excels at evoking characters with startling precision. The result is an exceptional collection that meditates widely on the way in which even the most stable-seeming lives can quickly unravel, revealing the contingent nature of the idea of stability itself.

Book Review: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

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September 12th, 2012

Perhaps it’s fair to say that the big accomplishment of Diaz’s new book is that it does what authors have always done, but it does it really well. He explores grand concepts—pain, love, history, and life—through an obsessive devotion to particulars. The violence of colonial history replays itself in the troubled starts and stops of a family struggling for connection and in Yunior’s own search for love.

Book Review: Odditorium: Stories

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February 27th, 2012

While the collection of eight stories has its highs and lows, Pritchard’s newest book offers an unforgettable tour through the author’s exceptionally rich prose worlds. From the suggestively self-reflective to the evocatively political, The Odditorium immerses the reader in stories woven from a dense and dynamic imagination, exquisitely executed and brilliantly textured.

Book Review: Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

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September 29th, 2011

In a neat reversal of the Reynard myth, the students at a school that molds young men into “world-class husbands” for purchase by the wealthiest bidder discover a murderer locked away beneath the campus grounds—a personification of all of the human weaknesses and desires that are forcibly discouraged and suppressed in order to create cookie-cutter Prince Charmings skilled in exemplary masculine arts like “Strong Handshakes, Silence, Rudimentary Car Mechanics, How to Mow the Lawn, Explosive Displays of Authority, Sport and Nutrition Against Impotence.”

Book Review: Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig

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September 4th, 2011

Filled with unsettling images and language, Alois Hotchnig’s newly translated collection is an uncomfortable journey, but one made extremely rewarding by innovative narrative and pace. Each of the nine stories in this slim volume are difficult to retell – characters are nameless and locations generic – yet, their force comes not from the particular.

Bloody Sexy Things: Adapting Clive Barker

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June 28th, 2011

Clive Barker has lent his eyes and hands to virtually every medium, from page to the screen to the stage to the canvas to the console. However, film fans know him particularly as a horror master. There is so much undermined material for gifted fantasy filmmakers that perhaps we could dispense with further Candyman sequels and retire the Hellraiser juggernaut with contented hearts, and enjoy a Clive Barker renaissance clad in all new colors.

What Is Best In Life? Not Conan 3D, Barring A Miracle

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May 3rd, 2011

Borne on the crest of the wind, I hear already the lamentation of women. Women whose dates have dragged them, possibly by the hair, to the late summer picture show. By now many of you know that Lionsgate will soon release a new film entitled Conan The Barbarian. Most of you will recall a cult classic by the same name from 1982, which was the breakout role of a certain Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Book Review: The Monkey’s Wedding and Other Stories by Joan Aiken

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April 18th, 2011

The pieces in this collection are tight knots or loose koans—sweet little puzzles. Told with the disarming guilelessness of parables, Aiken’s stories slip the apparent structure of their bounds at the last moment. For example, “The Monkey’s Wedding,” while describing the scrabble for the eponymously named painting, also explores the open-ended drama of a fractured family.

A Watchful Eye On… Sherlock Holmes

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December 15th, 2010

Sherlock Holmes as a strict Victorian period piece is over and done with, but the character still has potential in a new context. The only rule is not to stray from the unique faculties that make Sherlock such a distinctive and popular hero. If the story’s focus ceases to be the detective’s brilliant deductive logic, then the magic is lost and the character wasted. If, however, due attention and respect are paid to this detail, the rest is free and open to broader interpretation.

Book Review: Walks With Men by Ann Beattie

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August 3rd, 2010

Beattie, like in so much of her earlier work, leaves a lot to the imagination. Between the dialogue and the action, certain assumptions, even leaps of faith, are sometimes necessary to get from one paragraph to the next. There are better ways to render suspense—less does not always mean more—but you get the sense from the very first sentence that something important is about to be revealed.

The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund

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October 13th, 2009

The Bigness of the World, Ostlund’s first collection of short stories, was good enough for the judges of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. She won the prize in 2008. Deservedly so, for Ostlund has an ear, an appendage often ignored by writers in favor of the flashier eye. Alive to the subtext of the everyday, she uses flat conversations as a front for complicated back-stories…

Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 by Annie Proulx

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October 19th, 2008

Things are never fine just they way they are in Annie Proulx’s new collection of Wyoming stories. Women imperil themselves on mountains, animals go tits-up in ditches, young and old end up blighted or dead. Even the Devil can’t quite seem to make things work. Life is tough, Proulx says, and I ain’t peddling corn syrup.

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