Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Surf Guru by Doug Dorst

Stories displaying technical virtuosity

The locations of these short stories range from a suburban house, a truck stop, a magically realistic Latin American town, and a nineteenth century French village. The title story is written in simple advertising-ready snippets and is about a surf business mogul and his feelings (or lack of them) when he gazes on the waves. My favorite story was Splitters, told through a series of mini biographical essays penned by an insane botanist. Behind the academic jargon and hilariously constructed sentences, a moving story emerges of a deranged narrator, who, despite his protestations of invulnerability, is broken like everybody else. A hallmark of this collection is using literary tricks as a key into hot emotions. I also liked Dinaburg’s Cake, about a rich New Yorker seeking a wedding cake for his daughter, and the disappointed losing baker who becomes obsessed with him. She's a woman with an angle on love – she can’t approach it straight. The story gripped me, reached down into deep emotion, even though eventually the ending felt tacked on. And finally, I also liked Vikings about two losers stuck in a truckstop, finding an acquiescent baby, and scoring some fun.

The first story, The Surf Guru, I hated. Glib crap, I thought and almost gave the book up but luckily persevered because most of the rest of the stories were weird, deeply moving and technically surprising. Ultimately very enjoyable. The stories were crazily imaginative, although hovering on the line between being clever in a bad way (The Surf Guru) and clever in a good way (Splitters). The former pushes the emotions away in favor of a slick fake coherence and the latter uses apparent gimmicks to catapult the reader into a deeper understanding. I loved the conceit that you could tell a story through encyclopedia entries. I really enjoyed this collection although I’m not sure if the author’s strength is in the short form. In general, I wanted the absurdity to go on longer.

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