Land of Big Numbers: Stories: Chen, Te-Ping: 9780358272557: Books -

There is nothing wrong with this collection, per se, but there’s also nothing very right with it. It’s a perfectly serviceable book, with perfectly serviceable stories–sadly “serviceable” doesn’t exactly make for very memorable reading.

I think my main issue with this book is that I didn’t really see the point to any of its stories. Regardless of their subject matter–and the subject matter does vary, so there’s that–these stories all felt one-note, flat. When I read a short story, I want to feel like there’s a reason that we are following its characters at that particular time in their lives; that is to say, I want the short story to have a narrative reason to exist–why this moment? why these characters at this moment? The problem with Land of Big Numbers is that its stories don’t really address these questions. Characters are introduced, their life events narrated, their relationships highlighted, but none of this comes together to form any sort of cohesive narrative, one with tension or a climax or a sense of significance of some kind. I felt like I was just reading about a sequence of events wherein different things happened to different characters; I didn’t feel like I was reading a story.

Thank you so much to Raincoast Books for sending me a review copy of this in exchange for an honest review!

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Five Days of Fog by Anna Freeman

“five days of fog” is right, because nothing in this book stands out in any way, shape, or form

This is easily the most vanilla, forgettable book I’ve read all year. Reader, if you’re looking for something eerie and atmospheric, you will not find it here. That this novel is set during the Great Smog–the titular five days of fog that came over London in 1952–seems to promise a story that is exactly that–eerie and atmospheric–but in actuality the whole five days of fog concept turns out to be nothing more than a gimmick. The fog is a bit of a hindrance to the characters, sure; it slows them down and gets in their way, but at the end of the day the fog itself is all flash and no substance. For a book that’s titled after the fog, you’d expect it to paint a more vivid image of that fog, and not just present it as a one-dimensional cardboard prop.

Aside from the atmosphere (or lack thereof), there’s not much else to say about this book because it is so deeply boring in terms of character, plot, and writing. Five Days of Fog is so aggressively boring that its characters felt like they were bored by their own existence in the novel. I didn’t ever think a book about a FEMALE GANG OF CRIMINALS could ever be boring, but here we are. Needless to say, Five Days of Fog was a huge disappointment, especially given that I absolutely loved Anna Freeman’s first novel, The Fair Fight.

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Image result for Luster by Raven Leilani

I feel like Luster is another installment in a series of books that I’m gonna call Dysfunctional Women Being Dysfunctional—which theoretically, I’m all for, but in actuality I’ve been disappointed by more often than not, this novel included. (Update: I ended up writing a whole post about Messy/Dysfunctional women in literary fiction.)

Luster is Leilani’s debut book, and there are definitely glimmers of sharp, wry writing to be found here. One of my favourites: “In the time we have been talking, my imagination has run wild. Based on his liberal use of the semicolon, I just assumed this date would go well.” (lol)

That being said, I can’t really say that I enjoyed this novel.

This is a novel that is immensely bogged down by its own moroseness. The main character, Edie, undergoes humiliation after humiliation with no break and nothing even close to resembling happy to temper that humiliation. I think the novel articulates its own spirit when Edie thinks,

“…the debris around the drain not enough to deter me from lying down in the tub and being dramatic, humiliation being such that it sometimes requires a private performance, which I give myself, and emerge from the shower in the next stage of hurt feelings.”

And that’s exactly it: reading this novel feels like reading a performance of humiliation (“performance” in the sense that it’s a presentation of humiliation, not in the sense that that humiliation is performative or “fake,” somehow). And the writing compounds this performance to the novel’s detriment. Leilani’s writing is simultaneously too verbose and too clipped, both over- and underwritten: at times she elaborates on moments that don’t need to be elaborated on, and at others she breezes through monumental emotional moments as if they were nothing. It felt like the novel was working at cross-purposes from what I wanted.

Of course, what all of this means is, this book was written in a style that wasn’t to my taste. And I think that there’s definitely people for whom this book’s style will work. If you liked Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Miranda Popkey’s Topics of Conversation, or Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times, you’ll like Luster. I will also point out the fact that Luster is an ownvoices novel told from the perspective of a Black woman, whereas all those books I just mentioned are from white women’s perspectives.

Thanks so much Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!


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