Monday, September 5, 2016

Review: "The Strange Case of Rachel K." by Rachel Kushner

There is very little bad with Rachel Kushner’s collection of short fiction pieces, titled The Strange Case of Rachel K., but there is also very little good about it either. At only 80 pages on very small pages, and from the kind of writer Kushner is, this book can’t help but seem like a prelude to something else, and I question if that figurative something is even good in the first place. A few years ago, I read her breakthrough novel The Flamethrowers, and as time has passed, I completely forgot what it was about except for a few spare details (60’s radicals, sections in Europe, little else) and it just became another book on my shelf. And sadly, this book looks to be going the same route. It is favorably compared to Bolano on the front flap, but these three short pieces feel like Bolano-lite. It has the same ideas in mind, but not the gumption to follow through with them. Since there are only three pieces here, I feel I should talk about them all. The first piece, “The Great Exception”, begins with the implied brutal death of an explorer of the new world, and ends with the disillusioned relationship between a woman traveling from Hawaii to Cuba and the man she meets there. The second, unrelated story, “Debouchment”, unfolds over a few pages and consists of radio broadcasts, people talking in bars, and eventual explosions. The title story, really the heart of the book, shows the offspring of the couple in the first story, and the demise of Rachel K. at the hands of those that want to be with her. I find it hard to discuss this story more since we are given so little. If this is just a precursor to a bigger novel, I might give it a chance, but as it is, I’m left thoroughly disappointed.

Rating: 3/5

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