Friday, August 24, 2018

Review: "Certain American States" by Catherine Lacey

Catherine Lacey is part of a new group of writers with big ideas but not necessarily interesting ones, and her new short story collection, Certain American States, is a perfect example of this. Reading her books (I read her second novel, The Answers, last year) is a very distinct experience just from how it looks and is presented. She does not use parenthesis to denote dialogue and instead uses italics, so it gives every scene she writes were two or more people talk an air of unreality or misperception, as if what is being said is being filtered through a fissured mind. It provides some of the stories here with their most memorable moments, but also, distracts from what would have been a good story. As always, I will single out a few stories that stuck out, whether they were good or bad. The first one that stands out is “ur heck box”, where a woman reeling from grief is presented with texts messages from a mute co-worker. It is a story that kind of keeps you at arms length about what it might be about, and its ambiguity would have bolstered its quality if it were put forth in an interesting manner. Lacey has a tendency to zero in on minute details, whether it is a stray hair falling off someone’s head or the act of someone looking in a mirror, and it distracts from some of the story elements I want fleshed out. But what she gets right a handful of times are endings, with the title story, “Please Take” and “The Grand Claremont Hotel each ending in haunting manner somewhere between reality and nightmare and emotion and intellect. It is thankfully these moments that are strong and memorable that I am taking away from this book, with its bad sections being easy to forgive in hindsight. 
Rating: 4/5

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