There is a creeping claustrophobia to this collection. With a few exceptions, events take place in narrow confines: a rented attic flat in Belfast, a doer-upper in Brooklyn, a desert island, neighbouring suburban back gardens. Shriver’s chamber pieces are thrillingly tightly written. Walls press in ... Shriver writes a bimonthly column in The Spectator and there is a topical, satirical sharpness to these modern moral (and immoral) stories ... All Shriver’s stories are satisfying. I exhaled a little triumphant 'Ha!' at the end of each one. She gives you not the ending you wanted or expected, not necessarily a happily-ever-after, but a feeling of rightness, resolution and unjust deserts. Shriver is brilliant at the 'twitch upon the thread' that brings the wandering reader back with a hook through the cheek.
This is a book of stories about stuff. Some are funny, some are silly, some are clever, and all of them have the arch, in-on-it air that Lionel Shriver does so well, although it tips over into snark often enough that the rare note of wistfulness is more than welcome ... in many of these stories there are fine distinctions and indefinable links between what these characters are and what they own.
Ms. Shriver has a history of grappling with big issues but with Property she’s playing for smaller stakes. Most of these stories are amusing comic vignettes with the heft of network sitcoms. The book’s best work, the novella 'The Standing Chandelier,' does more to develop its premise, exploring the painful dissolution of a longtime male-female friendship after one of the pair gets engaged. But even this turns on a quirky conflict: Should a married couple have to return a wedding gift if they stop being friends with the person who gave it? Seinfeld fanatics will remember a similar argument in an episode from season four.
...[a] phenomenal collection of short stories ... The novellas and stories often seem to be in communication with one another in an unusual and pleasing way. She writes especially well about how the places in which we live affect us and sometimes shackle us ... The opening novella, 'The Standing Chandelier,' is the collection’s not-to-be-missed highlight. It explores the idea that, given the will and words, any personality might be rewritten ... When it comes to what Thomas Hardy called 'life’s little ironies,' Shriver is ahead of the game. Her stories are filled with irony and psychological shafts of light. She understands the oddity of what it is to possess.
Lionel Shriver is a virtuoso at describing what it is to be uncomfortable in one’s own skin ... The novellas and stories often seem to be in communication with one another in an unusual and pleasing way. She writes especially well about how the places in which we live affect us and sometimes shackle us ... With most short story collections, it is an effort to keep restarting the narrative engine with each new story. But Shriver has the gift for making one instantly curious, entertained, involved and ready to move in.
Shriver’s intellect and talent, her political convictions and her impressive confidence are all on display in Property: Stories Between Two Novellas, her assertive, frequently funny and altogether satisfying first collection of shorter fiction ... She is equally adept at inhabiting male and female characters, and equally convincing with natives of the United States and Britain ... Despite this variety, Property feels more unified than many story collections, and reading it has many of the satisfactions of reading a novel ... There are a few stories in this ample collection that seem inessential, and Shriver’s fondness for abundance leaves a couple feeling a bit overstuffed. But her confident grasp of the material and her natural gifts as a storyteller will keep you in her spell and leave you, at the end, slightly altered.
While much in her latest collection deals—as its title suggests—with real estate and the notion of ownership, it could just as easily have been titled Work. Mugs have jobs; Mooches don’t ... Some of the stories in Property may likewise be read as parables on the perils of greed or excess, or both ... In 'Paradise to Perdition,' the protagonist, Barry Mendelssohn, has embezzled millions of dollars and travels to the most expensive resort he can find online—the ominously named Eternal Rest ... The moral is about as subtle as that of a Mother Goose tale ... Or consider the entertaining story 'Domestic Terrorism,' about Harriet, the mother of a thirty-one-year-old community college dropout who refuses to move out of his parents’ home ... This is well-honed satire ... In 'Kilifi Creek' ... [t]here is no sentimentality...no lesson to be gleaned. The Afterlife was never going to pan out, Shriver makes clear. The spiral was always pointing downward.
Shriver is at her best here [in 'The Standing Chandelier], an acerbic comedian, Dickensian in style, whose vibrant characters are best seen in dramatic action and dialogue. She sees the ways selfishness can disguise itself as morality ... Flaws in the collection make themselves apparent through repetition. Shriver is spoiling for a fight. Determined to assert her right to write black characters, she focuses on their surfaces ... Taken individually, the stories are accomplished, but claustrophobia sets in as story after story puts the reader in the position of someone finding faults with another, rehearsing endlessly the argument about why other people should be different than they are. Sentences abandon concision and music to labouring the point. Character after character proselytises for him or herself for pages at a time. This may be the symptom of the age — the discourse Shriver rightly rails against — but the reader finishes the collection feeling that she is infected by it too frequently herself.
Complex and clever, 'Kilifi Creek' and 'Vermin' testify to the author’s powers. Other inclusions in Property are puzzling; 'The Self-Seeding Sycamore,' 'The Royal Male' and 'Negative Equity,' despite their sometimes eclectic lexicon, are neatly droll, erring-on-twee stories depriving the reader of breadth of vista or, indeed, Ms Shriver’s reassuring bite ... In a story collection there is little room for error, and their presence mars this exploration of an otherwise fascinating, endlessly contemporary subject.
Shriver is a brilliant satirist and virtuosic writer. But too many of these stories read like fables designed to illustrate a point. Too many characters are empty vessels, engineered to deliver sneering diatribes on modern life. Still, even if Property isn’t your dream house, it’s a diverting enough place to spend an afternoon or two.
['The Standing Chandelier'] recalls Shriver at her best: keenly alert to interior matters of jealousy, romance, and friendship and exterior matters of manners and decorum ... But in recent years, Shriver has become something of a scold in both her essays and fiction about what she sees as our overly sensitive, gumption-impaired society, and a handful of these stories are effectively chastising op-eds ... Few writers are so committed to using fiction to explore the intimate impact of formal regulations and informal social engineering, but it remains a hit-and-miss project.