A Texas town secedes from the United States, a criminal's memory is erased as a form of punishment, a young man disappoints his family by leaving his physical body for a digital form, and other hijinks ensue in this collection that explores elements of our current political predicament while offering a plea for connection and hope.
None of the alternative Americas envisioned by the conspicuously talented Matthew Baker in his new collection of short stories, Why Visit America, is implausible. That they don’t read as preposterous, even as they confound, is due to the author’s inventive play with form and his deeply affecting focus on human desire ... restrained but always trenchant humor ... These stories are not overly comedic—they are too deeply, complicatedly human for that—but there are plenty of snort-provoking moments. Baker employs a similarly light touch with the absurdism that comes preloaded on speculative fiction ... Meticulously working the genre to devise his examination of individual versus collective good, Baker (author of a previous collection, Hybrid Creatures) never takes the easy way out. He doesn’t brandish sharp swords at American capitalism or consumer excess or fears that masquerade as politics. Neither does he construct straw men, then ask the reader to applaud when he lights them on fire. Instead, he demonstrates charity toward his characters, who as Americans stand in for the prismatic nature of the country itself. All of which he seems to love, even the unlovable parts.
Baker refuses to play anything straight in this book ... Baker refuses to engage in stereotypes about the politically dissatisfied hoi polloi in rural areas ... a socially conscious book, though not a didactic one ... Among Baker’s skills is a sharp sense of humor ... Stories that satirize American big business are a dime a dozen, of course, but this one stands out for its dark humor and witty dialogue. Baker captures perfectly the way young men of the dude-bro variety speak to one another. There are shades of George Saunders, but it’s not derivative; the book manages to be both fun and socially perceptive, a difficult twofer to pull off ... Not every story in the book is successful ... But that’s the exception, not the rule. Most of the stories in Why Visit America are both clever and graceful, written with perceptiveness and a subtlety that’s often lacking in fiction that addresses social justice issues. Baker will fascinate with his boundless imagination and talent for crafting memorable prose.
[The title story is] a story of several satirical and comedic masterstrokes, Baker at his best. The premises of the stories in Why Visit America are increasingly inventive and clever, often featuring some sort of reversal to our current social order, offering up allegorical commentary on who we are as Americans ... Baker’s premises are all intriguing and start off showing promise, but his stories often get bogged down in the setup, in explaining the mechanics of the worlds he’s created. As the narratives become baggy, the conceits wear out their welcome, and the author seems to lose sight of his characters and their distinct struggles against the forces of their societies.