This assemblage of down-and-out moments is delivered with a wit and concision reminiscent of Lydia Davis and Diane Williams, a wry intelligence and keen irony that don’t prevent Unferth’s prose from offering deep emotional intimacy. Sharply exposing her characters’ shortcomings, she’s just as meticulous in revealing their suffering. We may laugh at them, but ultimately we ache along with them ... Unferth’s book is rich with surprises, small and large. She is equally adept at deadpan realism and postmodern playfulness, deploying stories that take the form of lists, plot summaries and dirty jokes. Her miniature stories are often wickedly insightful ... Again and again in these pages, Unferth swerves from the mundane to the extraordinary, from biting to soaringly celebratory, often in a single sentence.
These 39 stories circle around you, link elbows, and hold the reader under a strange spell ... The prose is spare, and her stories often grin while they expose painful truths so deep in her characters that we are often reminded of the blush of self-awareness ... The short shorts in the second and fourth sections are small beams of light. Each directs the reader to the 'last call' of emotions. They do what short shorts, flash fiction, micro fiction should do: heighten language, compel us with voice, use a tiny space to make a big impression ... Unferth’s spell is in her absolute confidence and her sublime endings. You lean forward in her stories as the narrative and jeopardy build, but you trust her to get you there.
Unferth knows how to change direction. Her absurd and tender story collection is full of sentences like clear glass doors, and you, reader, are the bird ... The way she writes these people is reminiscent of the unsentimental, often absurd, compassion of George Saunders, for whom there are no heroes and villains, just various kinds of achingly familiar weirdos trying to inhabit the same planet without more humiliation than is necessary ... The temptation to write neat and linear cause-and-effect is overwhelming. But Unferth resists, because the truth is that we contain queasy, flickering, tender multitudes.
A stunning debut collection from Unferth, in which a maverick cast of lonely characters wades through life’s uncertainties ... Prickly dilemmas, physical and existential, abound in these allegorical stories, each terrifically mundane and told with an exquisite restraint that drolly captures the inherent hope of humanity, or, 'the sheer human stubbornness that causes those worse off...to grab hold and climb back into the world of the living, ‘optimism,’ one might call it.' Chock-full of emotional insight and comic verve, Unferth’s beguiling stories are not to be missed.
...as delightfully witty as it is emotionally insightful ... The characters in these 39 stories are disillusioned, neurotic, and, most of all, endearing to the point of wondering if Unferth has a magnifying glass into your own life ... [The] compact pieces are sharp and shocking in their depth. The prose shows abundant restraint which makes the sentences that much more impactful and heartbreaking. And yet there are lengthier stories that wander and take their time weaving together various plot points. A collection that plays with form and structure like this adds a flavor that isn’t present in traditional short story collections ... smart, rich, and unforgettable stories.
Unferth is a master of comic darkness punctuated by a glimmer of hope ... Voltaire’s message that we must 'cultivate our garden' despite continual and senseless setbacks is prevalent throughout Unferth’s collection. By the end of each story, Unferth’s characters, despite constant humiliations and degradation, manage to pick themselves up. They exercise their offbeat power and savor small victories amidst the erasure imposed upon them. In Unferth’s world, moving forward is an act of fortitude.
Both traditionally told stories like 'Pet' and ingeniously structured pieces like 'An Opera Season' and 'Abandon Normal Instruments' showcase Unferth’s razor-sharp conversational prose and idiosyncratic blend of normal and weird, idealistic and disillusioned.