...this follow-up definitely does not fall prey the sophomore slump. Fridlund pens eleven tender, atmospheric stories of relationships — some gone awry, others disrupted by time, many fraught with ceaseless ennui, and several couched in slow-burning resentment. Even so, each world is occupied by a gentleness that overrides the trauma the characters carry and cuts through the deep-seated tension present in every scenario. This gentleness, then, is interrupted by sneaky bouts of the absurd. But Fridlund’s penchant for scrawling a sudden offbeat scene is met with a bewildering profundity that makes the reader question what they thought to be true about life ... instances of exactitude in characterizing the human condition are a stunning constant. Each one is a humbling reminder that humankind’s understanding of itself is still merely surface-level. With each passing page, Fridlund conjures up the unsettling notion that we know nothing. She whisper-shouts intimations that suggest a reworking of the truisms we’ve come to live by—as her stories reveal, nothing about humanity is sacred.
Eleven brilliant stories showcase childhood, adolescence, marriage, and families and how the appearances of these events and relationships in life can hide the strangeness and emptiness that pervade beneath the surface ... She unpacks these situations with thoughtful diction and complex characters, and her subdued and controlled language sets what is unsaid at the fore, unveiling hope, despair, and the paradoxes that are often ignored in such close relationships. Fridlund’s intelligent and conversational voice impressively manipulates the emotional atmosphere of her stories and will draw readers deep into exploring these seemingly commonplace topics even after they’ve put the book down.
... a powerhouse of a first story collection notable for its temerity and its skilled combination of humor and insight. Awarded the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction by Ben Marcus (who praised its 'piercing' wisdom and 'destabilizing insight'), this is — seriously — a laugh-out-loud collection as wise as it is funny. Take this line from the final story: 'I think a teenage daughter must be like one of those lawn ornaments everybody has, one of those grotesque little gnomes that are so useless and absurd you don’t even need to look at them.' It’s a funny image, made funnier by the fact that the speaker is herself a teenage daughter.
...a kind of tasting menu showcasing Fridlund’s stark, dissonant voice. Her descriptions blindside you with rude audacity … In artfully imagined predicaments, men, women and kids (even babies) try to figure out how and whom to be … Story after story replenishes Fridlund’s flinty, wistful vision.
The 11 stories in Emily Fridlund’s slim collection, Catapult, make her title seem especially apt ... Families are upended again and again in stories that, though they rarely have tight plots, unfold in taut sentences packed with startling insights. Why wives suddenly leave, or what husbands expect, or how siblings cope may at first seem weirdly baffling. Yet the worries and the secrets, the lies and the confusions that Fridlund exposes are likely to strike a chord ... Many of Fridlund’s characters share his disorientation. They don’t grow up, exactly, but they do grasp at wisdom. And they appreciate wit.
Although Minnesota locations — the Twin Cities, the North Shore — appear in these 11 stories, Catapult mainly deals with the dark, interior places of the heart. Fridlund’s unsettled characters aren’t always easy to like. Contemptuous of others, they need to control lovers, husbands and friends in order to feel better about themselves. Her dramas spring from this need ... As praiseworthy as these stories are, and they are very good, I have reservations about them. Fridlund must know that these days even Polish Americans shouldn’t be stereotyped ... Fridlund might also want to brighten her future stories a bit ... As I read her often dreamlike work, Fridlund’s narrative twists, arresting images and seductive prose began controlling me. It’s that difficult to resist her stories ...a remarkable writer...thoroughly enthralled by her book.
Fridlund writes about transitions—emotional, physical, even geographical—but more so about the state of transition. Her characters seem stuck, mired in the midst of a life change but unwilling or unable to seal the deal, to move forward ... Fridlund is particularly interested in the grey areas between moments. Her stories take place in borderlands between suburbs and the wild, and feature characters held back by their pasts but stumbling inevitably towards the future ... Each of Fridlund’s stories reads like a novel compressed and though it does work—both 'Catapult' and 'Lock Jaw' are stellar pieces—occasionally the author reaches for too much. It may be backstory or character motivation or just plot points scattered along the way, but there is an abundance in many stories that reads as clutter rather than atmosphere. Too many narrative threads, too many one-off plot additions shoot out into the darkness, never to be seen again. Even when Fridlund’s stories overextend, her writing is always spot on ... Fridlund’s writing—deft and observant, pockmarked with little bursts of joyful description—will pull you forward, even if the outcome isn’t always as satisfying as it might be.
...a collection of jarring and polished short fiction. The craft is evident in the perfect titles and the observational acuity of the sentences ... Each story mixes its humans with other mammals—rabbits, mice, bears, and especially dogs. Fridlund insists on functions primal and rude. She likes the color yellow for teeth and toenails, linoleum, rabbit fur, and toothpicks. Her stories evoke Flannery O’Connor's masterly way with grotesquery but deviate in Fridlund’s contempt for faith. Bracing, often brilliant stories deliver a shock to the routine narratives we tell.
...[a] sharp and startling collection ... Fridlund’s ability to conjure humor in the darkest moments is clear in her blending of sitcom set-ups with bleak undercurrents. Her breathtaking prose and sly expressions make for compulsive reading.