Friday, April 8, 2016

Review: "American Innovations" by Rivka Galchen

It is hard for me to believe that someone whose first novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, was so great could produce such a dismal follow-up, but American Innovations, the second book and first short story collection by author Rivka Galchen is certainly not the worst short story collection I have read, even this year, but it didn’t live up to what I thought it was going to be. I enjoyed her first novel, as I said. It has been a while since I have read it, but it’s themes about love and it’s sometimes slippery and concrete properties, all seen through this hard science fiction lens, really impressed me. But here, there is a lot of substance lacking in what could have been really good stories, if the main characters weren’t paper thin and all the same, and the stories moved past their cool, superficial exteriors. The first story, “The Lost Order” is actually pretty good. It begins with a woman, suffering from a recent mental malady, who puts what little she has left on the line to deliver a food order that was wrongly placed at her apartment. It accurately portrays the level of panic and hopelessness one reaches when a string of bad luck leaves them emotionally destitute. But after that, the stories vary in quality, from the passable title story, about a woman teaching overseas who grows a malignant breast on her side, to the downright disappointing story, “The Region of Unlikeness” , which has the premise of time travel, more specifically, the grandfather paradox, and goes absolutely nowhere with  it. The last story, “Once an Empire” about a woman’s furniture walking out on her, is cute and inoffensive, but still a highlight. This is a short book at only 175 pages long, but if you want a better representation of Glachen’s prowess, read her first novel, and you’d be smart to skip this one. 
Rating: 3/5

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