National Book Award finalist Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum is back with nine stories that range from the real to the unreal, strange to familiar, funny to frightening. Through unexpected visitors, Waldorf school fairs, aging indie-film stars, the struggle to gain a foothold in the capitalist shell-game of work, the Instagram posts of a twelve-year-old—these stories form a collection that is both otherworldly and suffused with the humdrum of everyday life.
Certain authors have such mastery over the short story form that you never forget the first time you read their work ... Likes lays out bread crumbs for the reader to follow, the fairy-tale reference deliberate given that several of the stories play on those weird fables we tell children ... Shun-lien Bynum allows her characters to believe they’ve seen the truth, but shows her readers that the characters — like us — rarely get it right. Likes is a short-story collection you should read slowly, but it’s so good, each story at such a high-wire level, that you’ll wind up tearing through it and wishing for more.
All three books share Bynum’s impressive control of language and a capacious sense of how much a story can do and contain ... Bynum is finely attuned to both sensory and emotional detail, especially in those moments when characters’ observations and feelings are more conflicted than they or the reader initially assumes ... The adjectives that readers often attach to Bynum’s work — 'enchanting,' 'charming,' 'precise' — are accurate, but can give the impression that she specializes in dollhouse miniatures, masterfully crafted but bloodless. Her skills and her sensibility are deeper and darker than that.
Bynum’s prowess here lies in her ingenious ability to elevate seemingly minor moments into the pivotal crux of a narrative ... Although the collection proves uneven, Bynum’s more dazzling tales surpass the less memorable for ultimately rewarding results.