Better Living Through Plastic Explosives Hardcover – Apr 5 2011
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“Zsuzsi Gartner’s writing is dazzling, effortless, and clear as a bell. She’s able to crystallize a cultural moment in a way entirely her own that is both instantaneous and eternal. I couldn’t let go of it and read it all in one go.” - Douglas Coupland
“What crazy, wonderful writing this is—hilarious, exuberant, apocalyptic, heart-stopping. Gartner sees all, dissects all, loves all. An absolutely irresistible collection.” - Barbara Gowdy
About the Author
ZSUZSI GARTNER is the author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling story collection All the Anxious Girls on Earth and the editor of Darwin's Bastard's: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow. She is the winner of a 2007 National Magazine Award for Fiction and the recipient of numerous awards for her magazine journalism. Her second collection of short stories, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, was shortlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize. She lives in Vancouver.
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Top Customer Reviews
I really wanted to like this book but I just could never quite catch my stride with it. The stories contained here are brief and disjointed in a way that fails to capture one's attention. Viewed in isolation the author is obviously good at their craft but somehow taken as a whole it's hard not to just skim over the words and realize only later that you've been reading for 20 minutes but not consumed anything the author had to say. In fact, the text blows by like a summer breeze and it makes it difficult to even formulate a coherent review. Nothing is more ample evidence of that fact than this rather incoherent bit of feedback.
Perhaps the whole thing would be better consumed in small bits over several days rather than taken all at once. The text is exceptionally tangled and complex so that generally means that one story a day is more in order. Sadly, the bits of this I did manage to catch are not interesting enough to motivate me to pursue that line of evaluation.
Granted, some stories deal with the more mundane: relationship woes, a child's unsatisfactory art grade, real estate transactions. But regardless of plot, all Gartner's tales contain acute observation, vivid description and sharply drawn characters. Her twisty, dense sentences move from sardonic to plangent, wry to heartfelt in a mere clause or two while avoiding the category of "too cerebral."
Ultimately, the collection blends the extraordinary with the very ordinary, the hybrid stories animated by a fact-happy, snarky and inventive author.
As an encouragement, this book gave me a clear understanding of what good short stories should look like. These are stories with tight, concrete sentences and language that highlights Gartner's cynical, yet sarcastic, tone.
However, the most appealing thing about "Better Living" is the characters. These are characters anxious with longing, characters bold enough to get drunk with existentialism and ask, "If we truly have developed from apes, then why do we still pick and prod at this thing called a soul?" and "Why are we doomed to want what we can't have?" and "Just what exactly are we doing here?"
Most of us aren't brave enough to sit down with these questions and talk to them until we're red in the face. But Gartner won't let her characters do that. No, Gartner sits her characters down and shows them, and us, that maybe life isn't about finding answers. Maybe life is about being courageous enough to ask questions, and not let go. Maybe life is a question without an answer, and maybe we feel sad for these characters because their inability to answer their questions reflects our inability to answer our questions, as well.
But at least they're bold enough to ask them, which is something us non-fictioneers are often too afraid, and unwilling, to do.
And for the depression. Well, the depression hits when I realize that I can't write like Zsuzsi Gartner, which, I guess, is okay--for now.
For now, I can just convince myself that I'm not carbon-copying her characters. And hope too, that somehow, she doesn't find out.