Author: Kristine Ong Muslim
Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Weird / Inspired by Art / Surrealism /
Publisher/Publication Date: Queen's Ferry Press (4/2012)
Source: The author.
Did I finish?: I did -- these stories were potato chip readable.
One-sentence summary: One hundred short stories, inspired by one hundred paintings.
Reading Challenges: E-books
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's dark and twisted and modern, matching the flavor of these stories perfectly!
I'm reminded of...: Aimee Bender, Ben Loory, Catherynne M. Valente
First line: And when the birds from hell burned down the cathedral that day, they understandably started with the chandelier., from 'Everything that Rises'
Did... I love reading the author's research notes about her process for selecting art and writing the subsequent stories?: YES. Fascinating stuff -- I love learning about the process of writing, and Muslim's endeavor is particularly interesting.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- the e-book is inexpensive and this volume is great for dipping in and out of, whenever you need a shivery treat.
Why did I get this book?: I love art and I've been enjoying my recent foray into short fiction. I couldn't say no to this collection.
Review: These one-hundred stories were inspired by real pieces of art -- but you don't need to be familiar with any of the images to enjoy these stories. Muslim's jumping point -- a painting -- ends with wonderful crafted story, poignant and sharp, sad and humorous. I read all the stories first, image unseen, then went to Muslim's website where she links to every image. Then, after checking out the images, I reread the stories.
I'll be honest: in many cases, I rather enjoyed the story more before seeing the image. Sometimes, Muslim's story is a literal description of the painting; when the image was unfamiliar, I savored her descriptions, but after seeing the picture, I preferred my mental image over the reality.
Described as 'flash fiction', these short stories are, in some cases, simply a paragraph -- but the length doesn't detract from the wallop of imagery and emotion. At 169 pages, this volume is easy to race through: I would read on, potato-chip reading, as I described it to my wife, inhaling one story after another, unable to stop myself. Some of the stories are darkly humorous; others, creepy and grotesque. Many of the stories have a surrealist feel to them, reminding me of Aimee Bender, Ben Loory, and Catherynne M. Valente -- helped by Muslim's choice in art. Ranging from well-known artists like Dali and Miro, she also picks contemporary artists who were new-to-me, and the spectrum of art styles was exciting and interesting. (I recommend checking out Muslim's essay on Necessary Fiction to learn more about her process for writing; I read it during my reading of this volume and found myself appreciating the stories even more.)
Even if you're not a short story fan, consider this collection: the pieces are so interesting, odd, dark, and twisted, they're like literary amuse-bouche, or a sampler flight of strange fiction. A unique way to dip your toes into odd fiction.
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