A would-be good guy must come to terms with the darkness in his heart. A couple living in the Luxury Car Commercial subdivision in "401(k)" are disappointed when their exotic vacation turns into a Life Insurance/Asset Management pitch. In these and other stories, Yu’s characters run up against the conventions and parameters of their artificial story lines while tackling the terrifying aspects of existence: mothers, jobs, spouses, the need to express feelings.
A playful experimentalist probes the limits of fiction in this debut collection ... The post-collegiate braininess of many of Yu’s stories is like the music of the Talking Heads, making the familiar seem off-kilter ... Within these 11 stories, Yu uses language to suggest what language cannot express, as he deals with themes such as the nature of distance, the essence of time and the illusion of self for readers whose attention span has been conditioned more by video games than classic novels ... Smart, engaging and often deadpan funny.
Issues of identity and insecurity simmer throughout Yu's debut collection, an imaginative excursion into the burrow Kafka built ... Yu flirts with formal experimentation—'Problems for Self-Study' unfolds as a complicated multiple choice test, for example—but tempers his fantastical constructions with level prose ... There is abundant humor, though, and Yu allows the reader to feel pathos without patronization; a neat trick, in a compulsively readable collection.
The unfortunate small-i irony of this collection of experimental metafiction is that Yu, a Los Angeles writer, seems to have big ideas about conspicuous consumption and emotional longing, but he rarely bothers to sculpture grounded stories from such raw, vague abstractions. The droll title story is an enjoyable exception, hinting at Yu’s potential ... More often Yu maintains a cool, disrespectful distance from the worlds he creates, writing in such tediously clever formats as mathematical problems and disjointed field notes. And Yu populates his fiction not with evocative characters but with generic types...as though he fears concrete details might overwhelm the cosmic jokes.