Sunday, April 24, 2016

Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips

Review based on ARC (Advanced Readers' Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

This is a series of short stories that all consider something unique, something out-of-the-ordinary, something bizarre. Some of them were excellent, some of them were thought-provoking, and all of them were interesting. I read this series of short stories in two sittings. Although Phillips seems to be a bit infatuated with the female body and perhaps a bit falsely cavalier about sex, the stories were nonetheless well executed, well-thought out, and well-manufactured in short story form.

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys speculative or unusual fiction. I will give a brief response to each of the short stories below.

FOUR of five stars.

The Knowers Phillips starts out with a sci-fi type piece where you can find out the date of your ultimate demise, and with it considers how some might react to the possibility and the way such knowledge may impact a typical relationship. The ending is unexpected and I actually kind of loved it.

Some Possible Solutions delves briefly into a few ways to "solve" some relationship "problems." The first is a bit disconcerting in the best way (you know, that creepy, crawly, under-your-skin feeling).. I believe Phillips has taken real things people think about and taken them a bit further along in their "natural conclusions" progression. Well-considered.

I didn't think I liked The Dopplegangers that much while I was reading it, but I was disarmed by where it went and am impressed in retrospect.

The Messy Throes... was funny and a bit surprising.. consider if all of a sudden you alone had not frozen in time during a diner party..

Life Care Center was probably my least favorite of the bunch... I don't know, it just felt a bit bleak and unfocused. Which was probably intentional, but I didn't really understand how it fit in with the rest.

The Joined, conversely, may be my favorite. It considers a different kind of answer to the problem of human relationship insecurities, and, once again, surprises and impresses me with its ending.

Flesh and Blood is one of the more "bizarre" ones.. It removes certain objects from the narrator's vision and follows through her responses. This was also not one of my favorites.. I think because, unlike many of the others, I was "meh" about where it went.. It was sort of predictable.. but any short story collection will have one or two of these..

When the Tsunami Came is perfect in its short and sweet honesty.

Game was another I didn't particularly like. I think I understand what Phillips was trying to do with the dual story lines, but it's one of those views of an inane relationship that just didn't strike me in any way. I couldn't wait to be done with that one.

One of Us Will Be Happy... was also not one of my favorites. It felt a little forced and aimless at the same time.

Things We Do was another meandering relationship piece that felt a bit like Game to me.. just kind of meh. I'm sure some people will like these pieces the most -- but the review of depressing relationships has never been my favorite thing in literature.

R is one of my favorites. I love the perspective. This was a sort of quick view into a dystopia where weather and it seems jobs are controlled to protect people, and how two strippers(/prostitutes?) fare in such a world after experiencing something they shouldn't have.

Children was another great one -- where might a line be between insanity and truth..

The Worst was almost a satirical look at perspective. Enjoyed in its brevity.

How I Began to Bleed Again... touches on everyday pain and losses with a touch of mysticism and leaves just enough unanswered to satisfy.

The Beekeeper was an almost light story about a developing, unlikely relationship at a time of fear and worldly problems.. I liked the story and mostly liked the ending, but it was a little abrupt -- not what happens, but what happens after. (I know that's confusing, but I don't spoil :))

The Wedding Stairs is somewhat unsettling, somewhat shocking, somewhat sad, a little confusing, and very well done. Another one of my favorites in the bunch.

The final piece, Contamination Generation was hopeful and heartbreaking and so well executed. It is not-too-distant future in a world in which we have kind of killed nature, but in which the very rich and the middle-class (?) live side-by-side and the stark differences are outlined and felt. I wanted it go to somewhere different than it did, but Phillips was correct in her decision and it was the right ending to the whole book.

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